I have told the Rich Jordan story to audiences across the country hundreds of times dating back to the mid 70’s. I’ve written thousands of words on the story which I became very comfortable with as I have a background in both “story” telling and writing. But what most motivated me was the content of the story. Perhaps the improbability of the story.
I grew up in southwestern Michigan in the 50’s and 60’s. It was small town America. And not unlike many youth of my generation I was involved with sports, particularly basketball. I loved the game.
One day while sitting in math class as a seventh grader our math teacher told us there was a “kid” in Fennville who was a sixth grader and he could play on any varsity team in the state. That line stuck with me.
Who is Rich Jordan? And did he live up to that statement I first heard now fifty plus years ago?
It was 1965, his senior year in high school. He was 5’7”, had a 38” vertical jump, and a 51 and 1/2” running vertical jump. He could dunk a basketball and owned a jump shot you would never forget. He packed gymnasiums and field houses wherever he played and set records that may never be broken. He average 44.4 points per game.
He was a phenom, and everybody was talking about him. A phenom from a small town.
I love small towns and small town stories. And this story goes well beyond basketball
I always believed the story should be told in film. More often than not when I shared the story someone would suggest that is what should happen. I knew nothing about how to produce a film. I did know it would require financial backing.
Thus began the building of a network of individuals who might be of help in the project. In the mid 80’s I had the name of a film company in Colorado. I contacted them and shared the story over the phone. They were interested. Shortly after our conversation I received a financial plan stating the cost and how to proceed. I would be required to back the film which would cost in the neighborhood of $750,000.00.
I started writing letters to corporations, foundations, and individuals I thought might be interested in the story. I heard from everyone I wrote to. Each letter indicated it was a story that should be preserved but they were not in the business of backing films.
I kept a box of materials including pictures, articles, recordings, and sporadic pieces of old film that would show up. On the top of the box I printed the letters RICH JORDAN. Periodically I would look through the materials in the box which would again spark my interest in the story.
I was really looking to produces a film with no specific ideas as to how that would be accomplished. As time moved on I considered simply sitting down in front of a camera and telling the story so it would at least be recorded. I never did that.
Along the way I had another unrelated idea to capture stories on film; The Living Baseball Card. Recording stories of retired Major League baseball players whose stories are markedly different from those of players today. A history lesson of sorts. These interviews would not have taken place were it not for a Michigan based film company.
After several years of interviews with baseball players I was asked by one of the film makers if there was a story I had ever wanted to film. With guarded hesitation I said, “yes,” and again told the Jordan story. But this time when I told the story it became evident to me that given the prevailing attitudes in the country and people’s treatment of one another a film might be more important now than when I first “pitched” it some twenty-five years before.
The relationship produced several filmed interviews before the idea of money halted the project. Money was necessary to move the film forward. I completely understood. I’d been down this road before.
As in life, sometimes the most well laid plans go nowhere. And what you never planned on in some strange way happens.
We were now into the early 2000’s when my wife Wendy, a children’s book illustrator and educator was in the middle of a project she had dubbed, “Drawing Children into Reading.” The project took Wendy from our home in South Haven to Homewood, Illinois weekly where her project had been funded by a foundation allowing Wendy the opportunity to effect children attending Willow Elementary School by training their teachers. Documentary film maker Anne Colton was asked to produce a film to document what was happening in the school. That was what brought Wendy, Anne and Amy Eagle, Anne’s co worker together. The result of their efforts was a beautiful documentary.
My state of mind for producing a film wasn’t gone, but shelved, I didn’t really think much about it anymore. After all, there are plenty of great stories, many of them I know that are never made into films. Again, that’s life.
Through Anne’s working with Wendy I got to know her. And through the production of Wendy’s film I was able to view her talent which was immense. And then one day Anne asked me, “Is there a story you think should be recorded?”
In conversation over coffee with Anne I revealed to her “the box” of materials. Anne had a wealth of knowledge concerning sports and first thought the story would be a great coffee table book. But she changed that thought when I told her I had recently spoken with Rich. “He’s still living?” That statement made all the difference.
As time passed I could tell there was an intrigue in the story for Anne.
In one statement I mentioned I didn’t have the finances to pay her what her talents were worth. Anne’s response could not have been better. “Let’s make the film and see where it takes us.”
The year was 2014 and the work began. It would turn out to be three years of enjoyment, seeing how resourceful we could be, lots of coffee, and eventually a completed film. Over this time I would learn so much about visual story.
We started compiling lists of ideas, who we wanted to interview, what the focus of the story should be, photographs, existing film, memorabilia, and how best to give the information continuity.
With Anne being in Homewood and me in South Haven we coordinated times that would work for us to get together and how to most effectively use our time. Anne was a master in terms of how we could save money in getting where she needed to be.. On certain days she would take the south shore train from Homewood, boarding near her home, to Michigan City where I would pick her up. When we got this routine “down” Anne worked on the train editing and planning.
She traveled to Florida by plane and Tennessee by car. There were numerous car trips we made in the Michigan area to seek out people, interviews, and additional photos. We were like detectives in search of the clues necessary to make our case.
While riding together in the car we discussed what we hoped to accomplish through interviews. One of the elements of Anne’s style which is part of the film is there is no individual narrator. The narration is provided by those we interviewed. The story is told by those who experienced it first hand. Once I knew that it made great sense and was extremely effective.
And of course the computer email allowed us to stay in constant communication.
We exchanged ideas, suggestions, and thoughts relative to production. Anne and sometimes Amy worked together in seeking out film we wanted to use and what we did not. An additional bonus was Anne’s husband Bob, who in his bag of talents as a musician has produced music for movies, television, and advertising. It was in 2015 I believe there was a five and a half minute film that did have a beginning, middle, and end which told elements of the story but certaiinly begged to be expanded.
This was the flurry of activity that went on for three years. The closer we got to completion the more inspiring I found the process to be.
And in 2017 the film was complete. A little over 26 minutes in length.
And then potential titles for the film went back and forth via email. Some were good we thought but just missed the mark.. Anne said to me we’ll know it when we get the right title. She said she likes the title to appear somewhere in the film. And that’s where JORDANVILLE came from. Courtesy of Anne.
JORDANVILLE, it’s quite a place. We hope you’ll visit.