Ron Schmidt, Creator & Executive Producer

Starting out with an idea for a story leads down multiple paths and encounters with many people, from guys who played ball in the league to folks who listened and offered suggestions. For many reasons I find it necessary to chronicle some of the individuals who are passionate about this story and the contributions they have made. It’s kind of like bringing the team together after draft day so everyone can become aware of all the great people, their talents and contributions.

I lead with two stories. After Peter-John Campbell, our director, did his artistry on the first draft of the script, I asked myself who would I like to read this. And Ken Burns, the famed Civil War, Jackie Robinson, Vietnam War documentary genius came to mind. When I called his office, his manager told me to give it a shot, and three months later I receive a letter drafted by an assistant who stated: “Ken read the script and said, ‘you’ve got to make this movie.’” Wouldn’t we love to have a day like that everyday?

Then after the Cleveland Indians World Series run a year ago, manager Tito Francona looked at the script and said, “this story has to be told,” which made us feel like we were on to something. So, with the thought of keeping the list short while possibly offending a few, here are some of the folks whose passion and contributions have made this story come alive. Thanks again for your passion and commitment to this relevant project. The division that exists in our country today calls out for a conversation about our humanity and who better to lead this discussion than “our kids” – Charlie, Sadie Mae and Jaybird.


I interviewed players and coaches who played in the original league and 50 hours of these conversations are archived at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. Two of the guys that made these interviews happen were Curtis Johnson and Billy Dean. Both are in the movie. When I contacted Curtis, he was head of the alumni group for the Lincoln School, the segregated African-American school which operated into the 1960s. And Billy was on the 1954 state championship team and witnessed the dark side of people and the beauty of teammates. Both these men were instrumental in bringing the players to me.


I coached youth baseball for 24 years and five years of hockey. I also mentor students from Cleveland’s inner city. Spending time with our youth gives me the hope that they will make things better. Here are three amazing kids. Sala is a recent graduate of Berea College, the first integrated college in the South. Her parents are from Africa and her interest is in telling stories. Her insights of people are a wonder and she’ll be working on set as well with the kids in the communities where we film. I’ve mentored Daylan since 8th grade, and he performs well in the classroom and on the football field at a prestigious Catholic high school. Hearing his story gave me the idea for the Green Field Initiative (click on NEWS for the full story.) And Kaylie, a 10-year-old from Illinois, who was the subject of a BBC interview on the hunger of kids in America. Her voice gave me the inspiration for our fictional character Sadie Mae.


This is an Appalachian story and I want to introduce Appalachia to the kids of our world through original mountain music. When I had the honor of meeting Herbie Smith, founder of Appalshop in Whitesburg, I told him I wanted “original mountain music,” not bluegrass music and Herbie knew exactly what I was after. That night he read the script. He came back the next morning and declared he was “in” on the movie. That didn’t take long.

I met Caleb Wright on a mission trip at my church years ago, and knew when I heard his group Elegie sing, that they had to be part of the movie. I told him I wanted kids walking out of the theater humming one of his soulful upbeat songs. Caleb comes from a rich musical tradition. His grandmother is the center of Mother Willie-Mae Wright and the Wright Family Singers.

And on our wish list is a woman who studied opera at the Oberlin Conservatory, was the first woman banjo player to win the prestigious Steve Martin Banjo Award, and has become a sensational performer who appears around the globe. I have asked Rhiannon Giddens to play “original mountain music” on her banjo for the fast-paced baseball scenes.


We learned early that the press can be your best friend. We are grateful for the exposure Debbie Caldwell, editor of the Middlesboro Daily News and Tyler Eschberger, reporter for the same has given us. Across the state, reporter Jackson French and photographer Austin Anthony of the Bowling Green Daily News were generous in their time and instrumental in landing us on the front page. And Dr. Ron Dubin, an orthopedic surgeon and host of Talk of the Town, along with film maker Frank Smith, are both passionate about bringing a film to Middlesboro. (Click on NEWS to see print and video pieces.)


Early on in developing our ground game, we targeted win-win positions. And in the process, we understood that women understand social-inequality very well. So, when I walked in to see Anne Jewell, Executive Director of the Louisville Slugger Museum, she told me that she would do two exhibits of the movie, one while we’re making it and the other after the movie is released. And she wants to coordinate the exhibits with Facing History and Ourselves. Also in Louisville, Rick Redman of Wilson Sporting Goods (acquirer of Hillerich & Bradsby Co.) committed to manufacture the period piece baseball bats for the production. In Williamsport, PA, the home of Little League Baseball International, Liz Brown, VP of Marketing and Communications, spent an hour and a half asking questions about our project. Robin Jaffe and Nick Trotta of Major League Baseball are currently reviewing the script and we are awaiting a response from Topps Baseball Cards.


Great teachers can be significant anchors for your life and we’re fortunate to have their passion and skill sets. Howard Bailey was raised in Middlesboro, attended the Lincoln School and went on to contribute in Student Affairs at Western Kentucky University for many years. He’s my “go-to” guy in Kentucky and I’d be hard pressed to say where I’d be without him. Barb Israel is a longtime teacher and was kind enough to read the script and write the synopsis that you’ll find in the booklet. Dr. Jai Wilson runs the film school at my old high school in Louisville and will provide student interns for the production. She is African-American and is very committed to this story. Vicki Fitch is the executive director of the Bowling Green Area Convention and Tourism and is a driving force in the Southern Kentucky Film Commission. Parts of the movie will be shot in Bowling Green and Vicki is our anchor to see this through.


Good friends and smart guys are a tough combination to find. Pat Winslow is one of those guys with an Ivy League education and law degree in addition to being a CPA. Pat has been lawyer and advisor to NFL coaches and players and had a few go-arounds with Hollywood. In addition, he has run a real estate development firm for many years. Jared Weston is a catch. He works in the sports media world and is the guy who’s getting us in the doors of the giant media companies.


A former NFL coach had a great quote: chemistry is more important than talent. And it’s true for our director, Peter-John Campbell and producer Darren Moorman. It can be hard to judge talent but knowing how the two most critical people work together trumps (sorry, bad choice of words) everything else. It will be the most crucial factor in the film’s success. Believe me they are plenty talented. Pete really brought the story to light from my first draft. In addition, he has done incredible work on our website and with the help of our friend David Loyola, who is originally from Mexico; the pictorial investor’s guide is amazing. Darren is a consummate professional, who has worked with many Hollywood stars and is excited about his latest release, Same Kind of Difference as Me. 


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