NEW YORK (PIX11) — Woody Harrelson stars in a new movie, “Champions,” about a group of basketball players inspired by their coach.
Harrelson plays Marcus Marakovich, a washed-up coach who gets busted for drunk driving. His court-ordered community service – to manage a team of players with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDDs.
Many of the actors starring in “Champions” have IDDs, including Matthew Von Der Ahe.
“It’s been tough. Not a lot of people want to take a chance on people with IDD,” said Von Der Ahe. “Woody (Harrelson), (Director) Bobby (Farrelly), they all took a chance on me.”
Now 22, Von Der Ahe has been acting since he was seven, but getting work hasn’t been easy. So he’s hoping this film will open doors for him and raise awareness for people in the IDD community.
The movie is a heartwarming and uplifting comedy. As Coach Marcus turns his underdog team into champions, the players inspire the coach to become a better person. Josh Felder plays the top player on the team Darius.
“I want this movie to have other people with or without disabilities feel inspired and to understand that people like us can break barriers,” said Felder. “We can do everything we set our minds to.”
Both Von Der Ahe and Felder are involved in Best Buddies International, the organization that advocates for people with IDD.
Felder, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, is a global ambassador for Best Buddies.
Sophia Dubuisson is the state director of Best Buddies.
“Best Buddies International has three participants that are involved, Joshua, Matthew and Maddie (Tevlin),” said Dubuisson. “They’ve been really wonderful ambassadors for Best Buddies. Just great representations of what we’re all about which is inclusion, so we’re really, really excited about this film.”
Champions are sending a strong message to audiences that people with special needs are not limited in what they can do and it’s time to break down the stigma and stereotypes surrounding them.
They view a disability as more of a special ability.
“I think everyone deserves to be heard,” said Von Der Ahe.
“As a superpower, it definitely helps me break barriers and gives me other opportunities. This movie is one of the examples,” adds Felder.
Champions opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 10.