CORRECTION - Posted April 4, 2012 - The March 10 edition of the Times-Tribune incorrectly stated current Corbin High School Offensive Coach Willard Farris as playing the head coach in the movie, “23 Blast.” Farris will be portrayed in the movie, being directed by Dylan Baker, which is currently in production.
We regret the error.
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
In the game of football, the coach calls a play out of his playbook.
The players execute that play to the best of their ability, knowing what they do in split seconds can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
And when all the ingredients come together, the 11 young men on the field meld into a well-oiled machine. They stop the offense from scoring, or pave the way for their team’s last-second win.
But sometimes the play goes wrong. And so is real life, which is what happened to Travis Freeman, who played for the Corbin High School Redhounds in the 1990s.
His triumph, his tragedy, and his resolve to overcome obstacles from his blindness made for an inspiring story which is about to be made into a full-length feature movie, called “23 Blast.” Shooting for the film begins next month, and that’s why the film’s director, Dylan Baker, is in Corbin.
“We chose the title ‘23 Blast’ because it’s one of the plays the coach calls for,” Baker said.
Baker told why the movie focused on Freeman and why he came to the town Freeman calls home.
“I guess you could do this anywhere in the world. You have a young man who had everything going for him, but he had a major setback, and he had to look at his life in a different way. His faith carried him through it all. So when we saw where this story happened, we decided to come to Corbin last November. We went to the final Redhound game of the season, and that’s where we decided this also a story about Corbin, because this is a town where Travis could rely on the support of teachers, friends, and family to help him overcome what he went through,” Baker told The Times-Tribune.
The movie follows two boys, Travis Freeman and Jerry Baker, as they grow up in Corbin. “It’s an idealized script and is based on what Travis and Jerry did during those early days of their youth. In our movie, they meet in the Pee Wee League. They both have an affinity for football, and they meet in many ways. Football is big in Corbin, and that brings them together. Their Pee Wee coach was their high school coach, and the football play ‘23 Blast’ is a very influential play to them. The coach will have the play held up on the sideline. He’ll tell them, ‘Here’s the play we’ll run’. He’ll grab the quarterback and says, ‘Call 23 Blast’. That football play helps tie the script, and the movie, together,” Baker noted.
In 1993, at the age of 13, Freeman’s life was in high gear as he was about to enter the 7th Grade, until he came down with a severe sinus infection which resulted from bacterial meningitis. “The disease attacked him behind his eyes, and affected the back of his retina,” Baker recalled.
Freeman was taken to Lexington, where he underwent surgery at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. In a story written later by Tim Whitmire of the Associated Press, Freeman said that his head was so swollen, he couldn’t see his eyelashes.
“They told me that 70 percent of the people who have what I had die...Surviving against such long odds made losing my sight seem like a small price to pay...I came out of it and I’ve never looked back,” Freeman told Whitmire.
And Freeman never looked back, as he started at center for the Redhounds for three years — from 1996 to 1999.
A key role in the movie will be that of Freeman’s mobility coach at the time, Patty Wheatley.
Baker pointed out, “We were very lucky to come into contact with Patty. She talked about when Travis went back to school, and people told her, ‘We’re gonna help Travis. We’ll take him from this place to another place.’ And Patty said, ‘No, don’t do it. He can do it on his own.’ Patty’s mantra is, ‘Let him do it himself. He’ll figure it out. If you let him do it, he’ll remember it next time.”
Baker’s wife, Becky Ann, will play the role of Patty Wheatley. Born and raised in Fort Knox, and a graduate of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Baker feels his wife’s Kentucky roots will be a big help in giving the movie a realistic feel to it. He added current Redhounds Offensive Coach Willard Farris will play the head coach in the movie.
And he’s also looking for people who would like to be in the movie, to play a small role, or to be an “extra” in some of the scenes, which will be shot on location in Corbin next month.
Auditions will be held on Wednesday, March 21 from 6-8 p.m. at the Ossie Burch Field House, on the Corbin High School campus. It’s what Baker called a combine audition for athletic males 18-30 years of age, who would be interested in portraying football players in the film.
If you’re interested, you can respond by email with your contact information to email@example.com. You’ll be asked to bring a photo ID, wear comfortable sportswear, and come to the field house at Corbin High on March 21, ready to show off your athleticism. You’ll also be asked to run some agility drills and participate in various warmups for the camera. There will be no contact (as in football tackling, or hard-hitting plays) at the audition.
Corbin High’s Theatre Director, Schann Mobley, will be in charge of the extras casting. For more information on the movie, you can go to their “23 Blast” Facebook page, at www.facebook.com.; or follow the movie’s blog site, at 23blast.blogspot.com.
Baker wishes the the auditions could have been on another weeknight, but due to some scheduling issues, had to settle for March 21.
“We feel terrible the auditions will be on a church night, but it was the only night the field house at Corbin High was available. We talked with one of the local ministers, and he understood. He said, ‘I hate to hear that, but given the situation, I understand this one time only.”
To movie fans, Baker may be familiar to you. He played Dr. Curt Connors in “Spiderman 2” and “Spiderman 3”. He also was in the film “Secretariat”, and played the role of Hollis Chenery, the brother of Penny Chenery, who owned “Secretariat”, the thoroughbred horse that won the 1973 Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes — horse racing’s Triple Crown. Baker started working as a professional actor in 1981, and has directed various off-Broadway plays in New York.
Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, he and his wife have a daughter who attends college in Maine.
“23 Blast” is Baker’s first time at directing a feature film.
“And it’s overwhelming. I’ve never worked harder, but I’ve never had more fun.”
The harder part comes after the movie is made, when Baker hopes to get a print of the picture to distributors, and get them to get the movie out to theaters across the country.
But like Travis Freeman, Baker has strength, resolve and resiliency. He also has the right play to use out of the playbook.
“I feel this story is strong enough, important enough, and fun enough to get people to see it.”