March 19, 2004 – The Disney Channel Original Movie Going to the Mat Premieres
“I don’t know what happened: I was going along, perfectly happy, my dad gets one phone call, and my life turns into an afterschool special.”
On March 19, 2004, the Disney Channel Original Movie Going to the Mat premiered. The film was critically acclaimed, winning a Directors Guild Award and a Humanitas Award nomination for writing. The film was written by Chris Sean Nolan and Laurie Nolan, and directed by Stuart Gillard. It stars Andrew Lawrence as Jace Newfield, Alessandra Torresani as Mary Beth Rice, Khleo Thomas as Vincent Shu, Wayne Brady as Mason Wyatt, D.B. Sweeney as Coach Rice, and Billy Aaron Brown as John Lambrix.
The film begins with a concert, with blind drummer Jace Newfield receiving acclaim for his skills. As he plays baseball the next day with his friends, they ask him about his family’s move to Utah. Jace is not looking forward to it in the slightest, as New York City will be very different than Salt Lake City. After they arrive, he stands in the nearby basketball court sullenly when another kid passes by. The kid, named Vince, is surprised to find that Jace is blind, but Jace takes it in stride by making jokes. When he asks Vince if he wants to play a game of hoops, Vince quickly makes an excuse and leaves. The next day at school, Jace tries to make his way around, and accidentally bumps into John, the captain of the football and wrestling teams. He once again jokes around, and is asked by a nearby girl if this is how he always makes friends. The girl introduces herself as Mary Beth, one of his readers, and although he uses his usual sarcasm, she’s able to dish it out just as well as he can. When he arrives at his Spanish class, his “charm” only serves to alienate everyone around him, especially when John arrives and sits next to him.
Jace attends music class in his new school, but is bored out of his mind
Jace heads to band class, and breaks into a drum solo, that leads into a quick jam session. The band director, Mr. Wyatt, is not impressed with Jace’s attempt at showing off, and warns him not to assume that he’s better than everyone else. A kid points out to Jace that Wyatt is also blind, and Wyatt refuses to give Jace any special treatment. Vince runs into him at school and the two create a fast friendship. Vince warns him that the only way to fit in at school is to be a jock. Back at school in gym class, the teacher forces Jace to sit out and do his homework, although Jace knows he is able to play. In Spanish class, the kids steal his tape recorder, and when the fire alarm goes off, he is knocked over by the crowd and no one helps him out until John grabs him by the shirt collar. Everybody just stares at him once he stands outside, and Jace stands there, alone. That night, Jace lets out his feelings through his music, much to the worry of his parents.
When Mary Beth is helping Jace with his studies, she reveals to him after hearing more of his snarky comments that people treat him differently not because he’s blind, but because he’s a total snob. Mary Beth suggests that Jace tries out for the wrestling team, as her dad’s the coach, and after researching the sport, he agrees. Vince tries out with Jace, and they go to meet Coach Rice. Rice is initially hesitant to allow Jace to try out, as Jace has no wrestling experience whatsoever, but gives Vince and Jace some tapes to watch of previous matches, asking them to come back next week if they’re still interested. His mom is concerned, but his father is all for Jace trying out for the team. Jace and Vince come back and are added to the team, but he needs a full commitment from the two. Jace overhears some guys placing bets that the “gimp and the wimp” won’t make it two weeks, and matters only get worse when Jace accidentally head-butts a teammate, breaking his nose. After the teammates continue to make fun of Jace and his handicap, Jace breaks and almost injures his partner during a scrimmage. Rice takes Jace to his office to lecture him, but Jace doesn’t want to hear it.
Jace’s teammates make it clear they don’t want him on the team by playing pranks on him
The first scrimmage takes place, and John has his own rivalry to work through. Coach sits John out, as he wants to save him for the State Championship, and his replacement not only loses the match to John’s rival, but breaks his collarbone. This gives Jace the open spot in the weight class, and the first match is the next day. Jace is nervous about competing, which doesn’t help when his other teammates still don’t want him on the team. The teammates play a prank on Jace, taping a sign to his back, but it is spotted by Rice and taken off before the match. He warns the rest of the team that he refuses to have a bully on his team. Jace loses his first match, and the rest of his teammates keep calling him pathetic. Although Vince and Jace continue to work hard and practice, they continue to lose match after match. One day, Jace talks with Wyatt, asking him for his advice. Jace admits that he joined wrestling so he could be part of something where his disability didn’t matter. Wyatt tells him that the only reason Jace is being treated differently is because he acts like he should be pitied, and he should try it a different way.
John heads back to the weight room after practice to grab his jacket, and finds Jace in there still working hard. Jace tells him that although he may not score a point for the season, no one will be able to say that he didn’t work his hardest. Mary Beth soon shows up and notices how hard Jace is working, and gives him a helpful tip: he keeps losing because his balance is off. She offers to help him learn how to “dance,” as she puts it. Afterwards, the two talk, and he asks her why she would want to spend time with a selfish jerk such as himself. When she says it’s because he wants to spend time with a hideous girl like her, he disagrees, telling her that she must be as beautiful as her heart. At the next meeting, the extra training has paid off, and Jace wins his first match. After the match, a reporter comes to interview Jace, but Jace refuses to do the interview until he wins a few more matches and does something more for the team. John gets some bad news in the form of a failing grade in Spanish; if he doesn’t get a B on the midterm, he will be unable to wrestle for the rest of the season. Jace offers to help tutor John, which John begrudgingly accepts, offering to help Jace with his weight training in exchange.
Jace and John spend extra time in the weight room to make Jace stronger, while Jace helps John with his Spanish
As the two work together, the two start to bond, with John teaching Jace one of his signature moves. Wyatt enters the music room one day to hear Jace with his guitar, and the two have an impromptu jam session, with Jace thanking Wyatt for his advice. At the next match, John and Jace win their bouts. Vince, however, is feeling upset that he can’t keep up with Jace’s training. Luke, the player injured at the beginning of the season, feels that he is fully healed and ready to rejoin the team, but Rice refuses. Luke then takes his frustration out on Jace, and Jace asks the coach for a wrestle-off between himself and Luke. Rice refuses, and Jace says that Luke believes he’s only on the team because he’s blind. Rice tells Jace that Jace didn’t get his spot because he’s blind, but because he earned it. Later, Mary Beth lectures Jace on how her father always gets questioned for his decisions, with no one considering how hard it is for him. Jace interrupts Mary Beth by kissing her, revealing his feelings for her, which she accepts. Later, as Jace stands on the basketball court near his house, Vince passes by on his bike but tries to avoid him. Vince admits that he’s tired of being a loser, and is jealous that Jace has been winning his bouts. Although Vince thinks Jace ditched him for a party, Jace decides to skip the party to help teach Vince how to “dance,” just as Mary Beth taught him. At school, Vince is able to beat up the bully with the moves he learned from Jace.
Jace is worried about Sectionals, as John needs to lose six pounds in a week to be in his weight class to fight his rival. Mary Beth attempts to cheer him up by having him teach her how to play the drums. As they play, John is seen working out in the gym to an extreme. As Mary Beth heads home, Jace attempts to kiss her, but she warns him not to, as her father, Coach Rice, would be furious. At school, Luke once again tries to shake Jace, reading an excerpt from the newspaper that claims Jace is really only on the team for “inspiration” due to his disability. Jace then goes to Rice and demands the wrestle-off to prove that he’s the best guy for the slot. Although Jace wins, he injures himself. Luckily, Rice is able to pop his shoulder back in, and everyone soon heads off to the last match of the season. John is able to make his weight class, but seems to be exhausted from the extra work. Jace is concerned for John, but John tells him angrily that if wrestling is taken away from him, he’ll have nothing left. Jace wins his bout, and John is sent in for his grudge match. Vince explains the match to Jace, but both are disappointed when John can’t win. As the match is tied, the final point comes down to one last bout – Vince’s. Vince wins the match for the team, and the team is off to regionals. During practice, everyone is geared up for State, but John is placed in a new weight class, which upsets him; what’s worse is that Jace is upped in weight class and will be taking on John’s rival.
Jace contemplates forfeiting the upcoming match against John’s rival, knowing he could get seriously injured
Jace is panicking about his upcoming bout, and his parents tell him there’s no shame in forfeiting. He goes to Wyatt for advice, and is angry that people call him “brave” for doing things people do every day. Wyatt tells him that Jace may be afraid, but everyone his age is afraid. Jace then confronts John, and the two agree to work together for Regionals, where they will both win. John is able to win his bout, as is Vince. It is soon time for Jace to take on the rival, and the whole team cheers him on. Before Jace goes out, Rice tells Jace that he is very proud of all the work he’s put into this season. The rival slams Jace hard, but Jace is able to spin out and avoid being pinned. In the last 28 seconds of the match, Jace only has to avoid being pinned. In the end, Jace wins, having been able to pin the rival, and the team is heading to State. The team hoists Jace on their shoulders and carries him out to victory. The reporter once again comes back to talk to Jace, and asks his team about Jace. The team acts as if they had no idea that Jace is blind, implying that it makes no difference whether he’s blind or not, and he is accepted as a part of the team for who he is.