‘It’s Time to Tell a Story’: Documentary Filmmaker Discusses New UNC Women’s Soccer Film

UNC men’s basketball head coach Dean Smith once stated that Carolina is a “women’s football school”. And while those outside of Chapel Hill may not have understood what he meant, anyone who sets foot on the campus of the University of North Carolina knows the truth about Smith’s statement.

Tar Heels own 22 women’s soccer national championships, far more than any other program in the country. All of them came under the leadership of head coach Anson Dorrance, after whom the UNC football stadium is now named. Dorrance will begin his 44th season as head coach this fall.

To honor Dorrance’s program and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, ACC Network will premiere a documentary on the reign of the Tar Heels. “Hidden Dynasty: The Carolina Women’s Football Story” airs Thursday at 8:00 pm and will feature interviews with UNC stars Mia Hamm, Kristin Lilly, Dorrance and more.

The film’s executive producer, Ross Greenburgh, was kind enough to speak to Chapelboro about making the film.

What first inspired you to make a film?

Many years ago, I made a documentary about the 99ers, the US national team that beat China at the World Cup. And in this documentary, we’ve traced this team’s journey back to its very beginnings, which began with Anson Dorrance and Mia Hamm, Christine Lilly and many more. Anson was instrumental in creating women’s football in this country and eventually the world. And two of his superstars on his first national team were Mia Hamm and Christine Lilly. I became very good friends with Anson, and we, I and [producer] Bob Rauscher reached out to a woman named Stacey McCollum from the ACC network. And we knew that they were looking for a documentary product, and we decided to hone this topic. The University of North Carolina women’s soccer team is arguably the highest-scoring varsity program in history. And we call it “The Hidden Dynasty” because other than football fans, people all over the country don’t know anything about it. And now it’s time to tell the story.

Why do you think it was important to release the film now?

Anson has been part of this since the beginning in 1979. And here we are in 2022, and he is at the advanced age of 71. And up to this point, no one has documented this program. It included some of the greatest superstars in women’s football history, many of whom went on to become NCAA coaches. It just didn’t make sense that nobody documented it. And so I called Anson, and he immediately understood what I wanted to do. And he was happy to tell his story and the story of the team. We did it from the point of view of women in the same way that Anson did. I mean, it’s about them. It’s about Title IX babies who mature and become legitimate, strong athletes and are taken seriously on the playing field. The UNC women’s soccer team is a prime example of what women have done over the past 40 years.

Was it hard not to admire being with the likes of Mia Hamm and Kristin Lilly?

Having got to know them over the years, they turned out to be very down to earth people. They have never been titled athletes. They always had to work for everything they got. One of the things we show in this film is that it all started with a $2,500 a year budget that they were given. And they drove wagons all over the East Coast. There were no flights to the west or anything like that, unless they made it to the NCAA Tournament. And then, I think they were flying, but believe me, they were in the car in the middle seats. So you’re not in awe of sitting next to Mia because she’s so down to earth with you.

She struggled, like all of us, all her life. They never made money and it was never easy for them. They always trained on insufficient playgrounds and went without food because the team didn’t provide them with food or the school didn’t provide them with food. They used to call McDonald’s “McDorrance” because every time they went to Virginia in those vans they always stopped at McDonald’s because that was all the team could afford to eat.

Are there any stats from their run that you keep coming back to?

I don’t even remember the numbers, but in that nine-year period when they won nine NCAA championships in a row – let me reiterate this: nine they won consecutive NCAA championships, which is probably the most outstanding and astounding record in the history of American sports – they lost two games in, I think, four or five seasons. It has never been duplicated and probably never will be. I’m currently filming a documentary about Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA titles in 13 years. He has never won nine times in a row. It’s really wonderful. John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins are a true dynasty, but they are second to none.

What would you say is the main reason for the team’s success?

Well, I think one of those people would be Anson Dorrance, who created the culture that he created. He appeared at the right time, in the right place, after the IX title, when women were given equal opportunities to become athletes for the first time. And football was the kind of sport where you could take women and make them “alphas,” as he calls them. If you think of Mia Hamms, Christina Lilly and Carla Overbecks, they were coming out of high school with their first opportunity to play high school football. They were no longer just cheerleaders. So he created an atmosphere where they could challenge each other, compete with each other on the field during practice, and then take it out on their opponents.

By creating such an atmosphere, he was ahead of everyone else. There really wasn’t another program in America that recruited the way he did and then created that culture that took these women to great heights. They all really trust him and probably have too little trust in themselves for behaving, really competing on the field and creating this dynasty. As such, you must give credit to every woman who has walked through North Carolina, put on her boots, stepped onto the field, and poured her heart into building the best women’s soccer team that has ever been created.

What do you think fans will take away from the film?

Title IX may be 37 words long, but I hope they understand that the women’s movement has had a lot to do with sports to prove the equality that women deserve in our society. And just like Jackie Robinson in 1947, these women not only in North Carolina, but in all sports, when they were given the chance to break into the college scene in the late 1980s after Title IX had been around for about 15 years, 15-16-year-old girls ran out into all these fields and staged a revolution. And they did it first on the playgrounds, and in this case in North Carolina, on the football field. And all of a sudden in the 1990s, women were treated the same everywhere, and they started getting the treatment they deserved in corporations and everywhere in America. This sounds familiar. It sounds like civil rights to me. So we live in 2022 and there are still many fights for women, for equal pay and to be taken seriously in the boardrooms and throughout our society. All of these women have been instrumental in paving the way for equal rights in this country.

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