“The Long Game” Celebrates A History More of Us Should Know

The Long Game

When Humberto G. Garcia attended San Felipe High School in Del Rio, Texas, he didn’t learn about the Miracle Five–the Mexican-American golf team who won the state championship in 1957. It wasn’t until he was at a local golf tournament in 2008 that he learned about the teen champs, saying at a recent event, “In that moment, the light bulb went on in my head and said this is a story that needs to get out.” Garcia has done just that, self-publishing a book on the subject, Mustang Miracle, in 2012, which has now been adapted into the movie, The Long Game.

The movie stars Jay Hernandez as JB Peña, the high school superintendent who forms the golf team played by Julian Works, Gregory Diaz IV, José Julián, Miguel Angel Garcia, and Christian Gallegos. Cheech Marin, Dennis Quaid, Jaina Lee Ortiz, and Oscar Nuñez also star in the film.

Prior to The Long Game’s theatrical release on April 12, Del Rio Mayor Alvaro “Al” Arreola declared March 29 as Mustang Miracle Day. They hosted multiple screenings at a local theater and a community pep rally at San Felipe Memorial Middle School, formally San Felipe High School.

“This is an amazing crowd,” Director Julio Quintana said at the pep rally. “We never thought all this was going to happen just from making what we thought was a little movie that just keeps growing and growing.”

In The Long Game, Peña convinces the teens to leave their jobs as caddies to instead become the first members of their high school golf team. With the help of Frank Mitchell, played by Quaid, the team competes in tournaments and eventually makes it to the state championship. It’s a story about perseverance, determination, and the importance of representation, while also addressing the discrimination Peña and his students endured by merely showing up in the color of their skin.

Members of the cast and crew talked about The Long Game in front of the former San Felipe High School.
Members of the cast and crew talked about The Long Game in front of the former San Felipe High School. Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez

Peña isn’t allowed to join the all-white country club because the other members are “not used to seeing a Mexican on the golf course.” When the team arrives at their first tournament, the organizer tells the coach that he assumed they were American. Peña responds with, “You assumed right,” because they are American citizens. And in a brief noteworthy scene, the team sneaks off to the other side of the border where their Mexican culture is also questioned.

Even the adults struggle with how to navigate between the two cultures. Peña instructs his students to assimilate, prohibiting them from speaking Spanish on the golf course. Trevino’s dad is the most reluctant, telling his son, “Whenever you’re invited to the gringo party, you’re either the entertainment or the help.” But Marin’s character, who at times is comedic, also imparts his wisdom, reminding the coach to just keep swinging.

Works said at the pep rally that it was easy to tap into the emotions for the tense racism scenes, because hearing the derogatory terms generated real reactions. There wasn’t much footage for the actors to study the people they portrayed, but they referenced Garcia’s book. Playing Mario Lomas is Gallegos’ first movie role, but he knew this film would have a huge impact as it revealed how brave these five guys were at their age. “I think it was just time for people to start knowing about our stories, so they can see that we too can do things and make great things happen,” Lomas said.

Christian Gallegos plays Mario Lomas, another member of the high school golf team. The Long Game is the actor’s first movie. Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez
Christian Gallegos plays Mario Lomas, another member of the high school golf team. The Long Game is the actor’s first movie. Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez

The Long Game premiered at SXSW Film Festival last year and won an Audience Award, but Quintana was nervous to screen the film in front of a Del Rio audience. The response seemed overwhelmingly positive as the audience cheered. Quintana did address some of the changes to the story. As much as he loves Del Rio, he filmed in Smithville, because the Texas town still had a 1950s aesthetic. The golf scenes were filmed in Colombia.

“We hoped to at least capture the spirit of a small community that sticks together, looks out for each other,” said Quintana. “And the aesthetics of what the actual trees or the grass looks like was less important to us than making sure we captured the heart of what you guys have here.”

It was emotional for Lupe Felan, one of the members of the 1957 state champion team, to return to his hometown for this event. He shared that seeing his story on the big screen hit him deep inside his heart as he has good memories of playing golf in Del Rio. “Golf in those days to us was nothing but a particular sport that we started, and we had no idea what we were doing until we started playing and started winning tournaments,” said Felan. “Our ultimate goal was to win the state or get as far as we could in the state. In 1957, we accomplished that goal.”

Felan added that he never realized that someday, there would be a tribute to what he went through. But The Long Game represents the promise Garcia made to the 1957 state champions 16 years ago: to share their story. “I know it’s taken a long time. I know all of you have been very patient waiting for this moment,” Garcia said. “It is now here, and my promise has been fulfilled.”

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