High School Football

Sports Illustrated to release documentary on East St. Louis football team

East St. Louis head coach Darren Sunkett as seen celebrating with his team after defeating Plainfield North.
East St. Louis head coach Darren Sunkett as seen celebrating with his team after defeating Plainfield North. Special to the News-Democrat

Thanks to Sports Illustrated, Joe Ward, Alex Agnant and their crew at ImagineMotion Productions, the images and memories of the East St. Louis 2016 football season will live on.

Contracted by Sports Illustrated to follow the Flyers throughout the entire 2016 season the ImagineMotion Production team have been at every practice, every game and behind the scenes, getting to know the players, coaches and those associated with the East St. Louis football program.

The documentary will be released in the not-too-distant future, Josh Oshinsky, Executive Producer of Sports Illustrated Films, said Wednesday.

East St. Louis completed an undefeated season in the Class 7A state championship game Saturday at the University of Illinois. The 26-13 win over Plainfield North gave the Flyers their eighth state championship.

Ward said he arrived in East St. Louis this summer with no real knowledge of East St. Louis or the Flyers’ football program.

“Just what I’ve read and seen in the national media about the city,” Ward said about his knowledge of East St. Louis. “The people have been very receptive and accommodating wherever we have gone, and the project has worked very well.”

Oshinsky is a 13-time Emmy Award-winner, whose credits include senior producer for Showtime’s “The Franchise,” for which he won a National Sports Emmy for “Outstanding Edited Series.” He was also a producer and editor of ESPN “30 for 30” documentary “Four Days in October.”

Oshinsky said the idea for filming the Flyers came from watching the “Underdogs” digital shorts about high school programs, which included a 20-minute episode on East Side last fall. The short film focused on the players, the financial hardships many of their families confront, and the frustration of losing half their season to a teachers’ strike.

“In the past, we had identified four or five different high school football programs whose story we wanted to tell per year, and filmed all of them for much shorter durations. Last year, East St. Louis was one of the programs that we featured in that regard,” Oshinsky said.

“This year, we wanted to alter our strategy towards a much deeper dive. We dedicated time and effort researching multiple programs nationwide, but every time returned to the simple truth: There was not a single program we felt warranted this level of commitment more than the Flyers.

“So we returned to East St. Louis, but this time with the intent to stay from the very beginning to the (hopefully not so) bitter end. And given how this season has played out, we are obviously glad we made that call. The school, Coach Sunkett and his staff, and the athletes themselves have welcomed our crew into their lives on a fundamental level. We could not be more grateful for their time, and more so their honesty, in helping us tell this story which extends well beyond the boundaries of the gridiron.”

Sunkett said he liked the idea from the start.

“The crew, which has been around all season, have been true professionals in every way,” Sunkett said. “I think any time you have the opportunity to get attention from a national and well-respected publication such as Sports Illustrated, it’s a positive for your program, your school and the community.”

But as Oshinsky stated, the film is much more than about the Flyers football program.

“We’ve gotten to know the kids and be around them, not only on the football field, but to see how they relate to each other off the field as well,” Agnant said. “It’s been a great experience.”

Oshinsky said he expects to know when and where the project will be released in the near future.

Senior quarterback Reyondous Estes said he has enjoyed having Sports Illustrated around during his final year as a Flyer.

“It’s been great and a real learning experience for me,” Estes said. “For the ones of us who are going to play at the college level, where the media attention is much more intense, it’s helped us learn how to handle it on a daily basis.”