At Caltech it’s all about one win
The Caltech Men’s Basketball team hasn’t won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game in 22 years, a string of losses that totals more than 250.
It’s the kind of statistic few are proud of, with even fewer who realize the rarity of such a painful stretch of loss that has had little attention paid to it until now.
Former UC Santa Barbara film studies student, Rick Greenwald, was a Gaucho basketball nut during his college days – missing more classes than basketball games. It was a passion he carried with him to the professional world, where he discovered a struggling Caltech team nearby his office in Burbank.
“This is in my opinion, the greatest underdog college sports story ever,” Greenwald said. “I’m excited top be the one to tell this story. It’s been a relative secret for so long and that’s part of the magic.”
The film made its world premier on Friday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Victoria Hall Theatre, where the entire team and coaching staff were on hand.
At first Greenwald set out to make a short, 10-minute film about the Beavers’ head coach Roy Dow.
But it turned into a feature documentary about the storied history of a college program that spans a century, and is far better known for its 31 Nobel Prize winners than its athletics program.
As an example, on the school’s website today is a story about Caltech and UCLA researchers developing a memory circuit the size of a human white blood cell.
The motto for the movie: “Before they change the world, they need to win one game!”
Winning games doesn't come easy, but changing the world hasn’t been a problem.
Located in Pasadena, Caltech boasts the most Nobel Prize winners on its current staff than any other school, five, but also has the most starters on its basketball team who have little or no high school basketball experience.
It’s what Greenwald likes to think of as a true amateur sports story, not based on the bloated conquest for golden championship trophies, but for just one win.
"It's not about championships, about beating the rival school, it’s about winning one conference game that at any other school would be meaningless,” Greenwald said.
As he began to envelope himself in the story, Greenwald said the stories within the story started to come out of the woodwork.
That’s when he decided to make the movie feature length.
The documentary goes back in time to the early days of Caltech sports, when it competed with UCLA and USC on a regular basis and occasionally won.
Many more successful collegiate athletics programs are cut from schools due to costly budgets, and Greenwald said the Caltech program is no different from any other school with budget issues.
But the necessity for a release from vigorous studies far outweighs the importance of winning.
Like hardworking students, many Caltech basketball team members stay up through the night studying. On these days, they aren’t required to attend practice.
And if a big test, or paper conflicts with a game, it’s acceptable to miss.
Greenwald joked about how, over the course of a four-year collegiate basketball career at Caltech, many of the players will miss more games than classes.
It was just the opposite for Greenwald. The only difference was, Greenwald wasn’t on the team.
“Athletics will never get in the way of academics there, ever,” Greenwald said. “That’s the viewpoint of a serious, hard core college basketball coach.”
But like any well-rounded education, some lessons can be taught better on the playing field than in the classroom.
Hard lessons like the importance of slow, persistent movement in the direction one wants to go.
Caltech hoops: 250 losses and counting
“Quantum Hoops,” a documentary that will be premiered today at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, takes a look at the most dogged team in college basketball.
Caltech’s Beavers keep showing up and playing despite a 22-year losing streak in their league, the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Rick Greenwald, a 1993 graduate of UCSB’s film studies program, intended to produce a 10-minute profile of Dow, who came to Caltech five years ago from a winning tradition as a player and coach at Colby College in Maine.
Greenwald, grabbed by the losing tradition at Caltech and the reasons behind it, decided to self-finance a full-length feature.
Caltech is an institution devoted to science and technology with stratospheric academic standards. A single “B” on a report card is likely to disqualify a high school prospect from admission to its 850-member student body. That turns Dow’s pool of potential recruits into a tiny puddle.
Imagine UCSB’s coaches being able to sign up only those athletes who qualify for the school’s Institute of Theoretical Physics.
In Caltech’s 2005-2006 basketball season, which is chronicled in “Quantum Hoops,” the Beavers had more valedictorians than high school basketball starters on their roster.
Dow has a standing rule: “Kids can miss practice any time for academic matters. That includes catching up if they had to go 48 hours without sleeping. On Tuesday nights before games, half our team is up until 4 a.m. studying.”
The struggle to master their subject matter can be every bit as daunting as their struggle to win games, Dow said.
Why does Caltech bother to play in NCAA Division III, which can be as competitive as it gets?
“Caltech needs intercollegiate athletics more than any other school in the country,” Dow declared. “Our students need it for balance in their lives and an outlet to compete. They also serve to remind people what true student-athletes really are.”
“It shouldn’t be about us being ‘loveable losers,’” Dow said. “I want people to see what a unique and special jewel Caltech is. Things that matter are discovered here. Basketball is a game, but we’re working hard at that too.”
Caltech’s coach and some players will appear at today’s 6:30 p.m. showing of “Quantum Hoops” at Victoria Hall. Also in attendance, Greenwald said, will be UCSB checmical engineering professor Joe Zasadzinksi and local resident Fred Anson, both former Caltech cagers.