At the professional level, you can just sign a few free agents. At the college level, you can lure a couple of big-name recruits. But how do you keep winning at the high-school level, year after year, essentially on a level playing field with your competition?
That's what intrigued Dallas-based documentary filmmaker Mickey Holden, who has worked on projects about big-name athletes for network television but couldn't shake the concept of a film about the tradition that comes with Highland Park football.
"I've always been intrigued with why Highland Park is always good," Holden said. "To keep winning I find remarkable. I wanted to find out what the secret sauce is."
Holden's finished project is an hour-long look at the Scots that coincides with the program's 100th anniversary this fall. It traces the football team's successes in the early years with Doak Walker and Bobby Layne to its most recent state title behind Matthew Stafford in 2005.
The film – called The History of Highland Park Football – will premiere on Fox Sports Southwest in October, with repeat airings scheduled throughout the fall. It also will be available on DVD.
Holden spent months interviewing those connected to HP, both past and present, to find out how the Scots climbed to the top of the ladder in terms of all-time victories and playoff appearances, among other lofty statistics.
“I think it’s tradition. The players are very close because they grew up together,” he said. “It’s a culture of excellence, and they do it in everything that they do.”
Holden had no difficulty locating interview subjects and finding archival photos and footage to use with the film.
“There’s a lot of memorabilia running around,” he said. “We just got to go out and start telling stories.”
Holden accumulated dozens of hours of footage, and the main challenge became cutting it down to the required length for television. He knew he had to keep the focus on the state champions and the big stars.
“There’s a really good show sitting on the floor,” Holden joked. “I’m probably going to disappoint some people.”
Holden, who produced a feature on HP football for “The Today Show” in the early 1980s, said great leadership has been an integral part of the program’s sustained excellence, from both great coaches and motivated players. He also credits community and fan support with playing a key role.
“I love the purity of the story. I love that these kids are playing because they want to,” Holden said. “They wanted to be with their friends and represent their school, and now they’re part of a continuum that goes back 100 years. There’s a bond that will always be there.”