Told with humor and suspense, and shot in a gritty verite style reflecting its unvarnished South Bronx milieu, Crotty’s Kids follows five Eagle Academy debaters as they evolve from content-light amateurs to critical thinking heavyweights. But debate is only an ongoing McGuffin to the heart of the story: young men in search of an intellectual father figure. Coach Crotty arrives in their lives with the clock running out. In two years, the young men of Eagle are likely to become grist for a staggering statistic: 50% of urban males never graduate high school.
As Crotty’s Kids grow in debate, we are pulled into the struggles of their personal lives: poverty, gang violence, a rape allegation, and how, for an urban black male, stealing a cell phone can lead to an encounter with the prison system. Layer by layer, scene by scene, we come closer to the real Crotty. Between the polar extremes of his constructed coach persona, we find a softer side. Interviews with friends and family reveal a man on a mission. However, a series of failed tournaments, program funding cuts, parental resistance, and the conflict between Crotty’s unique pedagogy and the educational status quo causes him to question whether there is value in his quest.
By film’s end we see the Eagle team win big, but realize that this journey was never about winning debates. Our hearts break at the complete portrait of Crotty and his motives, when he openly admits to the camera, “I have never had kids of my own; this is it, man.” Subsequently, the Eagle debate program is cancelled, leaving Crotty without his kids and the kids without their surrogate father. Are they prepared to stand on their own against the statistic that drew Crotty to them in the first place?