'Legends of the road' documentary featuring Seatlh students debuts at Kansas City Film Fest April 7

Shot in 1999, the film tells the story of a road trip to honor the Negro Baseball League


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More than 17 years in the making, "Legends of the Road" a film documentary by former Sealth teacher Gary Thomsen will make its debut April 7 at the Kansas City Film Festival. The time it has taken to be released is probably the least unusual fact about the film. Legends of the Road offers a comprehensive, inspiring look at bicycle road trip from Seattle to Kansas City, Mo, in 1999 by Thomsen and a select group of students and some players from Victoria BC. Their purpose? To honor the "Barnstorming" tours of athletes in the Negro Baseball League which existed in various forms from the 1870's to the 1950's. Featuring candid, provocative classroom footage and compelling video from the epic trip, the story is both inspiring and historically significant.

While many American and Canadian sports fans are familiar with the Negro Leagues and with iconic players Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Buck O’Neil, few are aware of the men who traversed two countries playing the game they loved in the face of rampant prejudice and discrimination – the barnstormers. Their journeys dispelled the notion of white supremacy on the baseball field and fostered the breaking down of racial stereotypes, leading Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to say, “They laid down the first plank in the civil rights movement.”  And while thousands saw these barnstormers play against local teams, their exploits and travails are largely unknown – a fact that resonated with these students, who felt it was a story worth bringing to light.

To honor those largely unsung ballplayers, and to draw attention to this forgotten piece of African American and American history, in 2000 the students produced the “Legends of the Road” barnstorming tour, incorporating high-school players from Seattle, Washington, and Victoria, B.C., to commemorate the 100th anniversary of barnstorming. Their tour was done on bicycles: 71 days, 33 games and 5,100 miles.

While not facing the same racial discrimination the black players endured, the students nonetheless faced challenges. On many days, they rode more than 100 miles to play a ballgame that night. At times, they could not find accommodations and were frequently short on cash. Like their Black barnstorming counterparts, they overcame those challenges and helped save a piece of American and Canadian history.

The film draws upon 30 hours of behind-the-scenes classroom footage as the students labored to research and produce the project, 55 hours of interviews with former Negro Leagues players (and players who played against them), eight hours of interviews with Buck O’Neil and Bob Kendrick (now president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum) and 11 hours of interviews with historians.

The film project grew out of a Sports and Events Marketing class at Sealth taught by Thomsen, who had a storied history at the school. Graduating in 1968 he was a baseball star and as a junior, led the Seahawks to their first city championship in any sport. He compiled a 7-0 pitching record as Seatlh won 12 of 15 games, beating Hale 2-1 to win the Metro League title. He won scholarships to Shoreline Community College and the University of Puget Sound, and appeared twice in NCAA Division I postseason tournaments. He came back to Sealth in 1974 as a coach for a year then went on to other coaching work, helped prepare the British national team for the 1992 Olympics.

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