The Height Plight of Warren Coolidge

RemingtonA lesson about being thankful for individuality is embodied in BMOC, an episode of The White Shadow.  The episode’s title is, of course, an acronym for the phrase Big Man on Campus.  It accurately describes Warren Coolidge, the star center for the Carver High School basketball team, the focus of The White Shadow, a CBS show that aired in prime time from 1978 to 1981.  The White Shadow revolved around a white ex-NBA player coaching a team composed of minorities.

Because of his height, Coolidge slam dunks the basketball with ease, intimidates opponents, and leads Carver High to victories.  But his greatest asset on the basketball court makes him a target for height jokes off it.  And the jokes start to wear on Coolidge.

Adding to the frustration are realities in rapidly growing, for example, constantly needing new clothes.  H shares misery with a Carver High girl who has a well-developed build that makes her a target of jokes.  And jealousy.

On a trip to the mall with Coach Reeves, Coolidge finds little comfort in his mentor’s attempts to soothe injured feelings.  Reeves, though, explains a harsh possibility.  Coolidge may still be growing, so this phase might not end soon.  Then, Reeves calls in a big gun, so to speak.  Bill Russell, former star of the Boston Celtics, visits the Carver High team.  But he fails to lift Coolidge’s spirits.  While his teammates shoot question after question at the basketball legend, Coolidge nonchalantly leaves the gym.

On the playground, Russell catches up with Coolidge.  During a game of one-on-one, Carver High’s center learns a few moves from Russell.  Then, he gets the guidance that he would not accept from Reeves.  Essentially, Coolidge finds a kindred spirit with Russell, who identifies with the benefits and costs of being tall.  Coolidge comes to accept his physical difference and the jokes that accompany it.

BMOC has the feel of an ABC Afterschool Special, a series of one-hour teleplays that aired in the afternoon hours from 1972 to 1997.  Each show contained a moral, ethical, or values lesson.  The shows did not air weekly, hence the word “special” in the title.

In the tag scene of BMOC, Wardell Stone, one of Coolidge’s teammates, cracks a joke about the height of the Carver High center.  Coolidge, in turn, takes it in stride.

Reeves getting involved in Coolidge’s problem reflected the central premise of the show.  Joel Foreman summarized the essence of the Reeves character in ‘The White Shadow’:  Fade To Black, a 1981 article for The Washington Post examining the show’s cancellation.  “He’ll bull his way into a situation rather than use finesse and he’s likely to insult the very person he wishes to please.  He makes mistakes all the time because he’s a male chauvinist and a little bit of a racist.  As a result, the weekly episode becomes a sensitivity session for the coach.”

The Coolidge character continued in prime time after The White Shadow.  In St. Elsewhere, a critically acclaimed show that aired on NBC in the 1980s, Coolidge works as an orderly in Boston’s St. Elegies hospital.  Bruce Paltrow, Executive Producer for St. Elsewhere, cast Byron Stewart to reprise the Coolidge role on a recurring basis.  In one episode, Coolidge explains that he got a scholarship to Boston College, the alma mater of Coach Reeves.  An injury ended Coolidge’s hopes of playing professional basketball.

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