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Schumer staffer-turned-wrestling coach focus of new documentary
He's used to going to the mat on Capitol Hill, and now a former Senate staffer is sharing his journey from Washington to coaching a high school wrestling team.
"Wrestle," a new documentary film, follows four students on a team at a Huntsville, Ala., high school as they face more than just hip rolls and leg rides. Chris Scribner started the team back in 2013 at J.O. Johnson High, which had been on the failing schools list for a number of years.
Scribner had been used to more partisan battles as a staffer for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) from 2011 to 2013. Schumer's deputy press secretary was inspired to leave his life in the nation's capital behind and apply for Teach for America after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
"When the parents came to visit Capitol Hill to lobby Congress for gun control and when it came pretty clear to me that nothing was going to happen, it just kind of made me think as a person in my mid-20's that I wanted to work in a capacity that more directly impacts people than as a congressional aide," Scribner tells ITK.
Some relics of his time in the District are featured in the independent doc from filmmakers Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer, which screens at D.C.'s Landmark West End through Thursday and also plays in select theaters across the country. Before working as Schumer's deputy press secretary, Scribner was a driver for the longtime lawmaker.
"I'm still driving students in this like really, really beat-up Subaru," Scribner says with a laugh. "That was the car I used to drive Schumer around for a year-and-a-half."
In a new teaching role and out of his element, Scribner - who's always been a wrestling fan - started showing his team of high schoolers clips of a familiar face on Capitol Hill.
"Some of the first videos that I showed to my students of how to wrestle were actually of [Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)] and Jim Jordan's brother. I didn't really think of that politically at all, but Jim Jordan wrestled this really famous match in the national championships in college against this guy named John Smith."
As a teacher, Scribner admits he makes countless mistakes that come through, warts and all, in the documentary. But he says he also drew on his experiences watching Schumer in the classroom: "If this powerful legislator is able to adapt to literally a national crisis that would call on him to not only give his opinion but then act on legislation and build coalitions within a 24-hour period, then I can probably be a substitute teacher for this math class today. Or if something really terrible's going on in a student's life, then I can probably think of a creative way to deal with it in a constructive way today."
The New York Democrat's managing style also helped shape Scribner's coaching efforts.
"Sen. Schumer always demanded this his staff give their best effort, but he never hammered us for mistakes... His deal was 'you got to be improving.'"
The 31-year-old New York native, who's now a second-year law student at Vanderbilt University and drives back and forth from Nashville to coach the wrestling team, says his aim with "Wrestle" is to draw attention to Huntsville. "I'd love people to see the strengths in that community and see how investing in that community could pay dividends."
"I'm not like the white savior" in the film, he says. "I'm a young teacher who's making a ton of mistakes. So people will have mixed feelings, but I hope they can also see how vital it is for them to engage in their own communities and especially in those areas that may go forgotten, economically or educationally."
Asked which is harder, dealing with the mudslinging that goes on in Congress or teaching wrestlers to go toe-to-toe, Scribner pauses before replying, "I definitely think it's easier to teach students how to wrestle. I even think it's easier to teach students AP macroeconomics when I don't necessarily know what that subject entails, because students want to learn those things. And I'm not convinced that Congress right now is incentivized to coalesce and work together - but I hope that changes."