When Gibsonburg High School’s baseball team did the unthinkable in 2005 — going 8-0 in tournament play to win a Division IV state championship after finishing just 6-17 in the regular season — many probably thought the story worthy of a book or a movie.
One person who thought just that was Bob Mahaffey, a Wayne, Ohio, native and 1980 Elmwood High School grad who lives in the Columbus suburb of Dublin and is president of Xcelerate Media.
Mahaffey, 50, always had a bucket-list dream of writing a book and making a movie. When he heard about the Gibsonburg baseball team later that fall, he had his subject matter.
“When I heard the story I thought it was interesting,” Mahaffey said. “I love an underdog story. When I head how they won each of the eight games on their title run, I was very impressed.
“I’m just really a nobody who always wanted to make a film. I said, ‘Boy, this is it.’ I love sports, and I love underdogs. I just thought it would make a terrific movie.”
He wrote his book, a fictionalized version of the actual story, converted it to a screenplay, and went about the business of turning his vision into a feature film.
Last Sunday at the Maumee Indoor Theater, one impossible dream of a team met up with Mahaffey’s impossible dream as Gibsonburg — filmed during the summer of 2011 for about $250,000 with the assistance of about 50 college students from across Ohio — played to its first audience in final edited form.
Movie-goers included head coach Kyle Rase, most members of the 2005 team, family members, and other invited guests.
Rase, who was a first-year head coach in 2005, called both the tournament experience and the movie “surreal” experiences.
“I felt very fortunate being the coach. To watch the movie is surreal, kind of unbelievable. It was fun to see these guys [from the team] watch it, and see the people again who worked on it,” he said
“I liked the story. Some of the endings of the games were dramatized a bit for the movie, but I liked it. That made it fun and interesting to watch. It was funny seeing myself on the screen. You never like seeing yourself in a picture or on video, so that was my first reaction.”
The surreal meets the surreal in the film’s opening minute. As Mahaffey explains it on the screen in a headline: “A true underdog story told by underdogs.”
The movie, 90 minutes long, gives a fictional depiction of the Gibsonburg’s long-shot achievement as the only team in the history of any Ohio high school sport to win a state championship with a losing record for its regular season.
“We had one goal and one goal only,” Mahaffey said. “We wanted to make a work of art that we would all be proud of — me and the 50 college students.
“I’m not sure what the total return on this will be, but I think it will be pretty good. But the goal was not making money.”
Two students who worked on the project, Jon Kimble and Casey Smith, are Maumee Valley Country Day School graduates. They now attend Savannah College of Art and Design.
The Gibsonburg players’ actual names are used, and Rase plays an on-screen role as an assistant coach to actor Ryan Kunk, who plays Rase’s role.
The movie focuses on the fictional lives of four real players: Andy Gruner (played by lead actor Louis Bonfante), Alex Black (Jonny Wagner), Wyatt Kiser, and Wes Milleson.
“You never think you’re ever going to see someone portraying your life, or something you did,” said Gruner, who works as a pharmacist in the Dayton area. “I still don’t know what to make of it. But it was exciting to see it happen.”
Gruner said he’s trying to digest the movie.
“I wasn’t a very outspoken leader [as depicted]; I was more of a leader on the field, doing it by action and encouragement. He was a little more outgoing in the film than I was in real life.
“I’m still trying to comprehend everything. It’s nice to know there’s going to be something out there where I can go, ‘Hey, look at what happened. I was a part of this.’ It was special to be a part of that, and know I have this movie to go along with it.”
If there is a star in the film, it is lead actress Lili Reinhart, a Bay Village, Ohio, native who has gone on to a guest-starring role in an episode of Law and Order: SVU, a movie role in the about-to-be-released Kings of Summer, and a role in a new Fox series, Surviving Jack.
Reinhart plays the love interest of Gruner’s character, who works in his family’s business, the actual Ideal Bakery in Gibsonburg.
The movie will be released in 40 theaters around the state on June 7, including the Maumee Indoor, the Paramount in Fremont, and the Virginia Theatre in North Baltimore and will run for at least a week.
Thanks to a distribution deal with the Ingram Entertainment of Nashville, Gibsonburg will also be released on DVD and will be available in video-on-demand.
When Mahaffey embarked on the film end of his project, he knew exactly zilch about how to make a movie. His original investment was a mere $5,000 to get things rolling.
He enlisted 50 college students, who were contacted and secured via social media with the promise of only some internship credit from their schools, and some potential profits, if the film generates any.
From that perspective, the fact that a movie called Gibsonburg actually debuted Sunday is a remarkable achievement. But, those who to view the movie the week of June 7 should not expect an Oscar-worthy experience.
It is, after all, a first movie made by a rookie filmmaker working with college students. Although the scenes are artistically shot, some of the acting is what might you might expect from inexperienced players, and the baseball scenes are a bit on the hokey side.
The work should not be sold short, however.
When Mahaffey entered Gibsonburg in the Dances With Films festival in California last year, it was one of 1,500 entries. But, it was one of only 21 films selected to be shown in its original 110-minute form at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif.
“They only accept films that have no-names in them,” Mahaffey said of the festival. “You can’t be a name director or actor. It only takes films that have no people involved who are in the business.
“We were one of the 21 films they selected. I was so proud of that.”
The movie was re-edited to its final form after the distribution deal was cut with Ingram Entertainment.
“The reason Gibsonburg is a success [is] because the 50 college students were so much more talented than I ever imagined they’d be,” Mahaffey said. “They knew things about lighting and cinematography and editing and acting.
“That’s why I invested more money than I originally planned to, and that’s why it turned out better than I ever imagined.”
“It’s pretty interesting to experience all of this,” said Kiser, who lives in Gibsonburg, attended Bowling Green State University briefly before serving in the Army Reserves, and now works in a metal-plating business in Northwood. “I think it’s kind of cool for the town really. All of these college kids that did this did an excellent job.
“There’s a small number of us who know the minute details of our story, and this is obviously a fictional story. But, they did a good job of representing us and what it was all about.
“It’s a small claim to fame. I hope it’s not the only one I ever have,” Kiser said.
“I’ll never forget these guys,” Rase said of team. “The first class you teach, or the first team you coach, is always very memorable. Because we won, that made it even more memorable. It is still very vivid to me what happened with these guys.
“To win eight games in the tournament playing against all of those good teams, you think, ‘How did that happen?’’’
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.