A New York Soccer Story: ‘Coach Jake’

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unnamedYears in the making, it is finally lights!, camera!, action! for “Coach Jake,” a gentle documentary about Martin Jacobson — the enthusiastic, passionate imperfect coach of the Martin Luther King High School soccer team in Manhattan.

The film, directed by Ian Phillips, has its premiere tonight — Thursday, Sept. 21 — at the AMC Empire Theatre 13 on West 42nd Street.

“We didn’t get into Tribeca [the Tribeca Film Festival],” Jacobson, 71, said. The movie, instead is part of the Urban World Film Festival. And a fitting place it is.

Jacobson, a guidance counselor at MLK, transformed a job into a love affair that spilled over onto the soccer field with a team that could easily have been plucked from the current session at the United Nations. Players from around the world ended up at MLK, where Jacobson helped to weave 16-city wide championship teams since taking over a forlorn collection of players in 1994.

This is a good project,” Jacobson said. “It’s a documentary to me that is about mortality. I’ve always felt it was about mortality. I’ve always read the obituaries in the New York Times.”

Jacobson, a former heroin addict now afflicted with hepatitis C, tells a tale of redemption and fulfillment through the lives of his players, who came to the United States from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. He helped some further their education through soccer while others chose their own paths.

“I was dysfunctional, like my kids,” he said. “Some succeeded, I just helped get a kid into Cornell. I told Bouna Coundoul not to go to overseas. He didn’t listen. He listened to bad advice. You do what you can.

“What I’ve done has been more covert than overt. We learn from every bit of life we’ve gone through, and it makes us stronger if positive.  Overcoming my demons, the craziness, made me a better person. I truly believe it’s about helping others.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am if not for the struggles. Thank heavens for soccer. We are what life gives us.”

 

Of his work at MLK, Jacobson declared it’s about “saving one life at a time,” a challenge he has carried over to helping dozens of youngsters stabilize their immigration status. “I’m a declared left-wing liberal … look who I work with.”

In addition to Thursday’s premiere, the documentary will be screen at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis (Oct. 13 and 15); the Bushwick Film Festival in Brooklyn (Oct. 15) and the Yonkers Film Festival in Yonkers, N.Y. (Nov. 4-5).