It began as something much smaller, a short video project by the Granite City High School journalism class honoring three legendary coaches at the school.
Things progressed from there and thanks to the hard work, diligence and technology-driven students on teacher Andrew Crider’s school newspaper staff, the result is a 50-minute documentary on Hall of Fame Warriors coaches Gene Baker, William “Red” Schmitt and Conrad “Babe” Champion. The documentary will make its debut at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Granite City Cinema (1243 Niedringhaus Ave.).
More than 200 tickets have already been sold at $5 each and there may be a second theater opened to accommodate expected large crowds. Schmitt, Baker and Champion will all be in attendance as well, adding to the festivities.
Crider said copies of the documentary DVD will also be available for sale. To purchase tickets or DVDs contact Crider by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“I’m so proud of these kids,” said Crider, an English teacher who once played soccer for Baker at Granite City and also played the sport at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy teaching a group of students as I am teaching this journalism class. They are really the ones that did all of the work.
“These guys put in a lot of time and it’s been very satisfying and fun to see the finished product.”
I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy teaching a group of students as I am teaching this journalism class. They are really the ones that did all of the work.
Granite City High journalism sponsor Andrew Crider
Granite City High senior Maverik Aurand did a lot of the film editing and other aspects of the project, which began last October after a suggesttion by longtime district employee Ginny Henson.
Eight hours of footage were edited down to the final 50-minute documentary.
“We weren’t really expecting it to become as big of a project as it did,” Aurand said. “We were just expecting to do five to 10 minutes of footage at most. We decided to expand it from one coach to three and got reflections from a lot of former players and the coaching staff.”
Aurand admitted to feeling a bit like an expectant father, waiting to see how the men being honored and the crowd react to the student-produced documentary.
“I’m really excited to finally see it presented on Sunday,” Aurand said. “It’s exciting, but also a little scary at the same time. Originally I took the class because I really liked the teacher, but now I’m sort of considering taking a minor in media communications or something.”
I’m really excited to finally see it presented on Sunday. It’s exciting, but also a little scary at the same time.
Granite City senior Maverik Aurand
Crider said he was contacted by retired Granite City Elementary School principal Al Wilson, who has been living in Texas for the past 25 years.
“He’s flying up here just to see the video,” said Crider, who has been Granite City’s journalism sponsor for two years.
The journalism class couldn’t have asked for better documentary subjects.
Baker, 73, led Granite City and Granite City South to nine of the school’s state record 10 state soccer championships. His 514 wins at Granite City are the second highest in Illinois history and that total expands to 777 wins counting his time at Riverview Gardens in Missouri.
Baker twice won National High School Coach of the Year honors while at Granite City and he was a player on St. Louis University’s 1965 unbeaten national championship soccer team.
“The kids did all the research and asked all the questions,” Crider said. “They pored over old yearbooks looking for photos and information and also in the Granite City Sports Hall of Fame. I gave myself directorial status at the end, so I sat down with the editors and we went through every frame together. The post-production process is what takes such a long time.”
The group even located a full-page color photo of Baker from a 1965 Sports Illustrated issue when he was playing for St. Louis U.
This is probably the most ambitious project that I’ve done outside of school. It’s the feeling of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile.
“The interviews were great,” Aurand said. “They gave really detailed answers to all the questions we prepared. We wanted to preserve their stories. It’s sort of getting lost now because the stories aren’t getting passed on, so a big focus of ours was to provide a living source and hopefully keep their stories going into the future.”
The 93-year-old Schmitt is still widely regarded as one of the top wrestling coaches in the nation for his work at Granite City from 1950 to 1985. His first three teams were undefeated and by winning the 1964-65 state title the Warriors were the first school outside the Chicago area to bring home a championship.
Schmitt, still honored by the annual post-Christmas wrestling tournament that bears his name, was the first wrestling coach in the country to reach 500, 600 and 700 career wins. He is a member of numerous national, state and regional wrestling Halls of Fame.
Champion, 83, is well known in local baseball circles and was Granite City’s high school baseball coach for more than 20 years. He won a state baseball championship in as a player on the Warriors’ 1948 team and later served as a scout with the Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies.
The school’s baseball field is named after him and Champion has been extremely active in local fundraising projects to improve the school’s athletic facilities and build and maintain the local Sports Hall of Fame. He recently was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame for his officiating work.
“For a lot of these kids, they don’t really understand the legacy and importance of these men in terms of history,” Crider said. “They got the pleasure of working so hard together to complete this really massive project. How many high schools put together a real professional documentary. They can be really proud to be part of that.
“These men have done so much for Granite City and these kids, who don’t even know these men, put this documentary together.”
Crider said he has approximately 50 students on the school’s online newspaper, GraniteHighWorld.com. While everyone helped out, he said “I have about eight to 10 kids who really are the ones who worked diligently to make this happen.”
Among the many putting in a lot of hours on the project were seniors Ben Klee and Alex Kass. Klee works at the cinema and got the manager to agree to the debut showing.
“It was pretty insane,” Aurand said of Klee, who also is active in student council and spirit club. “For him to find time for these interviews that were hours long was pretty tough.”
Aurand said Kass was a big help with editing video and doing design work. At one point, the group accidentally deleted some video footage, then got an important lesson in the art of using recovery software.
“This is probably the most ambitious project that I’ve done outside of school,” Aurand said. “It’s the feeling of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile.”
Crider said it was important for his students to see what they were capable of doing on their own.
“In seeing what they can do in journalism, so many of them have become excited about this field knowing they can accomplish things like this,” Crider said. “It’s real, it’s tangible and they get to see the finished product.”