A high-school basketball coach volunteers to coach a troubled teen in long-distance running.
Life changes overnight for coach John Harrison when his high school basketball team’s state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news. When the largest manufacturing plant in town suddenly shuts down and hundreds of families begin moving away, John must come to grips with the challenges facing his family and his team. Urged by the school’s principal to fill-in and coach a sport he doesn’t know or like, John is frustrated and questioning his worth… until he crosses paths with a student struggling with her own journey.
The opening scene takes us into the gym of Brookshire Christian School as the boys basketball team narrowly loses their hard-fought championship game in the last few seconds. After the game, the coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) consoles his son Ethan who missed the final shot of the game and his team telling them that next year they are posed to take the state championship as all their best players will be returning while their opponents’ will have graduated.
In the next scene, Coach Harrison and the other teachers at the school all learn through a television news broadcast that the manufacturing plant, the largest employer in their town of Franklin, is moving to another city. Another coach says, “There goes the football team…” and explains that his best players’ families all work at the plant, but he assures Coach Harrison that basketball should be okay as he will still have his best players returning.
Cut to a scene of high school boys playing basketball in the park. A young high school girl, Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson), walks by and sees one of the boys’ expensive headphones lying on the bench by where they are playing. When the boy realizes they are gone and looks around, he sees Hannah. She runs through the woods with all the teenage boys chasing her. When they reach an apartment complex, they lose sight of her and assume she ran inside. Actually, she ducked behind some rocks and tried to hide her heavy breathing from the boys to keep from being discovered. We learn she has asthma when she pulls out her inhaler. After the boys give up the chase and leave, she continues on to her grandmother’s house. There, her grandmother holds out an iPod and asks Hannah where it came from, insinuating she stole it and tells her to take it back saying she already bought her one. After her grandmother leaves for work, Hannah takes the stolen headphones and puts them in a box hidden in her room, presumably filled with more stolen objects, including another set of headphones.
In her office, Principal Olivia Brooks (Priscilla Shirer) tells Coach Harrison that the school is losing several teachers and coaches, and she needs him to coach cross country as she doesn’t want the school to lose another program. He protests as he doesn’t like cross country or even think that it’s a real sport, but he doesn’t have much of a choice. When he goes to tryouts, however, only Hannah shows up to join. She has a form signed by her grandmother, indicating she was born on Valentine’s Day, and she has asthma. When the coach protests to the principal, she tells him even one runner matters.
At the first practice, Hannah runs a respectable, but not impressive time. Back at the Harrison home, he complains to his wife, Amy, another teacher at the school, and tries to recruit his basketball-playing son Ethan to run cross country as well. Ethan says he will only if his dad will run with him to train, so Harrison drops that idea. A phone call from their pastor reminds Amy she promised that Coach Harrison would help the pastor with hospital visitation that night.
At the hospital, Coach Harrison accidentally enters the room of Thomas Hill (Cameron Arnett), a blind man suffering from diabetes complications and a former cross country runner. Hill says he doesn’t often have visitors and invites Harrison to come back.
Things go downhill for Harrison. He continues to lose basketball players and realizes he won’t have a team at all, that his son will have no opportunity to get a college scholarship, and that all the teachers are getting a 10% pay cut. His wife tries to encourage him with mixed results. After Hannah’s unimpressive performance at their first meet, Harrison returns to visit Hill and ask for advice on how to coach her. Along with giving suggestions on cross country coaching, Hill challenges Harrison to consider what his true identity is. If he’s not a coach or a teacher or a husband or a father, then who is he? He answers that he’s a Christian, and Hill asks him if his faith is so important why didn’t he list it earlier.
Hill shares how he had to lose his own eyesight before he could clearly see what was important–how he hurt so many people and was selfish. Harrison learns that Hill had a girlfriend, got her pregnant, got her on meth, abandoned his baby girl after she died. The baby was born on Valentine’s Day 15 year ago and now lives with relatives. Harrison puts the pieces together and realizes his daughter is Hannah.
Conflicted about what to do, as Hannah’s grandmother has told her both of her parents are dead, Harrison asks Principal Brooks about the situation. We learn Brooks was a friend of Hannah’s mother and has been the one paying for Hannah’s tuition. She says she can’t counsel the coach to go around the grandmother, but she also is sure that if they don’t, Hannah will never know her father. So Amy and John ask Hill first if he would like to see Hannah, and then they ask Hannah. In their first meeting at the hospital, Hannah can only stay a few moments before she has to leave from all the emotion stirred up. She later returns and asks him to tell her what happened. Hill tells the story and says he knows he doesn’t deserve it but hopes she can someday forgive him. Hannah says, “It’s hard.”
Hannah and Principal Brooks talk about all Hannah’s feelings about her father–about feeling unloved, a mistake, unwanted, abandoned. Principal Brooks tells Hannah that she has another father, a perfect Father who has always wanted her and loved her and cares for her. They pray together, and Hannah asks Jesus Christ to be part of her life. Principal Brooks challenges Hannah to read the first two chapters of the book of Ephesians in the Bible and to write down all the things it says about her.
She writes down things like: “I am blessed. I am chosen. I am forgiven. I am redeemed. I am loved.”
Hannah dramatically declares all of these things in front of Coach Harrison, and the drama class at school then returns all the things she had been stealing. She goes to her father’s hospital room and finds it empty. Grateful to find he was only moved to ICU after a possible heart attack, Hannah informs him she has two things to tell him. First, she has given her life to Christ and second, if Jesus can forgive her for all the things that she has done, then she can forgive him. Of course, he is thrilled.
When Hannah returns home, she finds her grandmother has come home early from work and is livid when Hannah tells her she was visiting her father. She feels betrayed. She tells Hannah that she was trying to protect her by keeping her away from him. Her grandmother goes to the Harrisons’ home and threatens them and the school with legal action if they ever help her see him again. Then she goes to Hill’s hospital room and tells him to let her go, that he only brings hurt to everyone.
All of them pray. The Harrisons pray together for wisdom on what to do. Hill prays that God wouldn’t leave him useless after just getting back his daughter. Hannah’s grandmother prays that God would help her to forgive all of the hurt of losing her daughter, of working so hard all these years to take care of Hannah. She says only God can do it.
At a meeting of the regional cross country coaches before the state championship, a vote is taken on whether or not to allow runners to use earbuds. At first, opposed, Harrison quickly changes his mind and lobbies the other coaches to vote in favor as well.
At the state championship, Coach Harrison gives Hannah an earbud and a player telling him to push the play button when the race starts. She does, and she hears the voice of her father coaching her through every step of the race. He tells her how much he loves her, how proud he is of her, how they are going to do this together. He coaches her to find her pace, to dig into the hills, to pass girl after girl. With the encouragement and expert coaching of her father, Hannah runs her best race ever and literally falls over the finish line, having given her everything to overtake the former state champion in the last stretch. As paramedics bring oxygen for Hannah, everyone waits for the final results, which were too close to call without review. When they determine Hannah won by leaning forward an inch more; her classmates hoist her on their shoulders and everyone cheers. Hannah’s grandmother stayed to watch her race even though it meant she was late for work. After her congratulations, Hannah tells her she wants to see her dad, and her grandmother nods and tells the Harrisons to bring her home after.
At the hospital, Hannah puts the medal around her father’s neck. He is thrilled that she medaled. Then Coach Harrison tells him it’s not just any medal; she won the state championship. Hannah wraps her arms around him, puts her head on his chest, and says, “I had a really good coach.”
Hill’s casket at the cemetery is surrounded by Hannah, her grandmother, the Harrisons, Principal Brooks, and others. The pastor says Hill’s story was one of redemption. Hannah tells Coach Harrison that she “had the best dad in the world for six weeks.”
The last scenes are six years later. We see Hannah sharing her story with others in a group, scenes of her running cross country in college, and her opening up a box tied with a ribbon (one of a whole set that Coach Harrison apparently has in a drawer that he mails on her birthday) and inserting a flash drive into her player and running through the city while listening to a recording made by her father for her saying, “This is your 21st birthday, Hannah. This is the prayer I have prayed for you for this year…” e.