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Tribeca Film Festival Review: On the Mat

Joe Mulligan

Tribeca film shines light on high school wrestling
High school football and basketball have received much more attention in the past decade, as ESPN and other sports media outlets look to discover the next big star. LeBron James drew impressive crowds in Ohio as a high school student, as did Cameron Newton growing up in Georgia. At Lake Stevens High School, however, wrestling is the popular sport, as the school has captured seven of the last 10 state championships in Washington.
In the documentary film On the Mat, director Fredric Golding takes viewers into the lives of the Lake Stevens team, as the wrestlers tussle with issues in and out of the gym. The most talented member of the squad, Steven, shines in competition, but struggles to stay eligible as poor grades hinder his season. Battling a serious injury, sophomore Eric inspires teammates with the way he competes through the pain. Then there’s Ryan, who handles the memory of his dead brother while trying to focus on school and the sport. Coach Barnes is a father figure for the boys, as he balances strict discipline with loving care for each one of his warriors. 
Actor Chris Pratt (The Five Year Engagement, Moneyball) produced and narrated this documentary. He is a former wrestler from Lake Stevens, and he does a terrific job of explaining to the audience how much wrestling means to the community. Pratt’s light-hearted persona also adds humor to a film that keeps viewers on the edge of their seat for most of the film.
After spending an hour getting to know the athletes, the state tournament kicks off, and the audience finds itself cheering for the squad as if these boys are part of its own families. The tournament brings out surprising heroes and bitter disappointment. One thing is for sure: This film is the winner of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Online Feature Award, and you will be applauding the effort of Lake Stevens wrestling whether they win or lose.