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LCU Hosts Alumni, Real Life Family Portrayed in Disney's McFarland, USA

Lubbock Christian University welcomed the real life heroes of Disney’s latest blockbuster, "McFarland, USA," on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Jim “Blanco” White and wife Cheryl were joined by their daughters Tami Wolfe, Julie Tuttle, and Jami Bell, all of whom are LCU alumni. The Whites spent the day on campus speaking about their experience of being portrayed in the film and meeting with the LCU community.

Jim and Cheryl, who are portrayed by Kevin Costner and Maria Bello in the film, agree that seeing their story portrayed on the big screen has been a wonderful experience.

“We’re having fun with it. To have someone come in and put this in a movie, it’s pretty remarkable. For the town, in itself, it’s pretty remarkable also,” Jim said.

McFarland, whose motto was changed from “The Heartbeat of Agriculture” to “Tradition, Unity, and Excellence” thanks to the perseverance of Jim and his runners, has seen more positive changes. The town is receiving a new walking bridge over their freeway with the silhouettes of runners fastened to it as well as a new water tower with the names of all of the boys who have been state champs painted on it.

Disney also funded the building of a new program in east McFarland. The non-profit organization, KaBoom!, organized the event. The playground was built in six hours with the help of local volunteers.

Even though the film has seen national attention leading to its release date on Feb. 20, the Whites said that this idea has been years in the making. At first, the family was excited at the thought, but, after several failed avenues, their excitement began to wane.

“We were pretty excited, but after 15 years, 17 years, you lose that excitement. You can’t keep that every year,” Jim said.

However, Disney was the company to follow through, but not without some changes. Both Jim and Cheryl said that they prayed that the first script would be thrown out, as it showed the Whites cursing in a few scenes, which was not accurate to their character. The family wanted the rating to stay PG and to depict Jim as the godly man he is. Their prayers were heard and a new script was written.

“Disney came up and did it the right way,” Jim said.

While the family said the film was accurate in depicting Jim’s devotion to the kids and the working environment the kids faced every day, some things were changed, one being Cheryl’s involvement with the team.

“I became a second mom to the kids. The movie does not depict me as that. It just kills me when we see Maria Bello waving goodbye as they go off to the state meet. I was there a lot of times before them,” Cheryl said.

Another change made to the story is that only two of Jim’s daughters, Julie and Jami, are depicted in the film. All three of the girls were grown and were attending, or had graduated from, Lubbock Christian University by the time their father began his job at McFarland, but the girls agreed that the depiction of Julie and Jami was essential to portraying their father’s character and family values.

When asked if she was bothered by not being in the film, Tami offered a genuine reply, “It didn’t bother me at all. They did a good job portraying the feel of what is was like for my dad being the coach.”

At a luncheon held in the family’s honor, their daughters shared several lighthearted moments from the time they spent on the set of the film. Jami recalled meeting Elsie Fisher, who played her in the film. She said that Elsie ran up to her on set and jumped in to her arms in excitement of meeting “the real Jami White.”

While the girls were attending LCU, Jim and Cheryl brought two of the boys from their 1987 team to visit the university where their daughters were studying and involved in countless student activities.

Jim and Cheryl still reside in McFarland and stay in touch with the 1987 team. Jim said he thinks of the boys as family and Cheryl added that they call the boys’ children their “nietos,” or grandchildren. Two of the boys teach at McFarland, one taking over Jim’s position after he retired.

Jim said that he hopes that the message of hard work and positive attitude are taken from the film.

“Anybody can have success with a lot of hard work. You have to have the proper attitude. I preach attitude a lot … You’re the only one who can control that,” Jim said.