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Unlikely allies in 1950s Kansas, modernize college sports, & parallel the Civil Rights movement that would transform an entire nation.

What is "Jayhawkers"?

Kansas University sophomore Wilt Chamberlain, second from left, is among a cast of Jayhawks accepting the Big Seven Championship trophy in March of 1957.
Kansas University sophomore Wilt Chamberlain, second from left, is among a cast of Jayhawks accepting the Big Seven Championship trophy in March of 1957.

Synopsis -

“Jayhawkers” reveals how a small group of unlikely allies in 1950s Kansas modernized college sports and changed a community, serving as a parallel to the Civil Rights movement that would transform an entire American society.

Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS
Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS

The Full Story of "Jayhawkers"

The Battle of Black Jack, which occurred in 1856 near the city of Lawrence, Kansas, is considered by some historians the first battle of The Civil War, with John Brown himself at the center of the action. Seven years later, Missouri Ruffian William Quantrill would lead his furious pro-slavery raid into Lawrence, a Free State bastion. Downtown would be burned to the ground, and nearly 200 men and boys of Lawrence would perish.

Ninety-nine years after Black Jack, America was a far different place. Or was it?

By 1955, the University of Kansas in Lawrence had become well-known nationally in part because James Naismith, the inventor of the now-popular sport of basketball was its original coach. His protégé, the flamboyant Forrest C. “Phog” Allen, was renowned as the Father of Basketball Coaching, the man responsible for getting the game into the Olympics, and the brains behind the 1952 NCAA National Championship team. It was only natural that the greatest players would be interested in donning a KU Jayhawk jersey.

Prodded by the youthful and progressive Chancellor Franklin Murphy, an aging Phog Allen put his legendary charm to the test in his efforts to recruit a true phenom from Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain., By the time he was ready for college, there was already something mythical surrounding the handsome, enormous, powerful, brash, witty and intelligent young man. Of course, Wilt was also African-American.

Kansas University sophomore Wilt Chamberlain (13) struggles to draw a rebound away from a crowd of players during the 1957 National Championship game.
Kansas University sophomore Wilt Chamberlain (13) struggles to draw a rebound away from a crowd of players during the 1957 National Championship game.

Teams across the country wanted him, and their efforts resulted in the first modern competitive attempt to land a superstar. His goals were to play in an integrated community and to win a national championship. To the dismay of bigger colleges in bigger markets, KU was his final choice – the place where he could learn from the man who created the modern game, and learned coaching from the inventor of basketball himself.

While most people know that Chamberlain was a gifted athlete, the full extent of his gifts – both physical and intellectual – are rarely understood. There was simply no one like him, certainly not before, and according to many sports enthusiasts, not since. What Wilt could do bordered on the magical – a seven foot giant who could bring the ball down the court, could leap from the foul line to lay the ball through the rim, or could catch a ball thrown from behind the backboard and drill it through. He so frightened the traditionalists that rules were changed to protect the game. Famed sportswriter Jimmy Breslin even asked in a column, “Can Basketball Survive Wilt Chamberlain?”

During his years at KU, hounded by the media and fans alike, Wilt created a second world, in the black community of Kansas City jazz music and nightlife. Naive to the institution of segregation, Wilt almost left Kansas before he started when he discovered that Lawrence was a world separated by black and white. That bleak reality threatened to strain his relationship with Coach Allen, but with the backing and support of Chancellor Murphy, his presence helped to change a community.

Only one year after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit in Topeka, 20 miles to the West of Lawrence, the struggle for dignity and civil rights on the court would bond a team and change a town forever.

Kansas University fans leave in a caravan down N. 2nd Street for the National Championship game between KU and North Carolina in Kansas City, Mo., on March 23, 1957.
Kansas University fans leave in a caravan down N. 2nd Street for the National Championship game between KU and North Carolina in Kansas City, Mo., on March 23, 1957.

And then… there was basketball, the game that provides the vehicle to tell the story of an era. KU had already been a national champion before Chamberlain’s arrival. Surely – surely – with the Big Dipper, they’d do it again… But, they would have to do it without Coach Allen at the helm. Incredibly, a University policy would force his retirement just prior to Wilt’s first varsity season, leaving Chamberlain to play under Allen’s assistant, Dick Harp – a good man, but not the iconic Coach that Wilt came to play for.

The movie’s emotional climax comes during the triple overtime 1957 National Championship bout between the Jayhawks and their bitter rivals from The University of North Carolina, a game that is decided in the final seconds, and one that has been called the greatest in college history.

Jayhawkers tells the powerful fable of how a small group of unlikely allies modernized college sports and changed a small Midwestern town, serving as a parallel to the Civil Rights movement that would transform an entire American society.

A team photo of the 1956-57 Kansas University squad.
A team photo of the 1956-57 Kansas University squad.

Who are the filmmakers?

Kevin Willmott

Kevin Willmott, writer/producer/director

Kevin Willmott wrote and directed the critically acclaimed feature film C.S.A: Confederate States Of America, about America, had the South won the Civil War. After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, IFC Films purchased the film for domestic theatrical distribution. CSA was released theatrically in the U.S. by IFC and was distributed in several foreign countries.

His latest film, The Only Good Indian, starring Wes Studi (Avatar, Last of the Mohicans), J. Kenneth Campbell (Bulworth, Yulee’s Gold) and newcomer Winter Fox Frank, premiered at The Sundance Film Festival. The Only Good Indian was written and produced by Thomas L. Carmody. PorchLight Entertainment has secured sales rights for foreign distribution. Domestically, the film is currently being seen on the Encore and Movieplex television networks, and can be streamed online at Netflix.

Willmott recently completed The Battle for Bunker Hill, starring NYPD Blue’s James McDaniel, Saeed Jaffrey (Gandhi), Laura Kirk (Lisa Picard is Famous), Kevin Geer (American Gangster) and Blake Robbins (Oz, The Office). Willmott is producer and director of The Battle for Bunker Hill, from a script he wrote with Greg Hurd.

Ninth Street, an independent feature film starring Martin Sheen and Isaac Hayes, was written, produced and co-directed by Willmott. He also played the role of “Huddie” one of the films main characters. Ninth Street was released by Ideal.

For television, Willmott co-wrote with Mitch Brian House Of Getty and The 70’s, both mini-series for NBC. THE 70’s aired on ABC in May of 2000. In 2005, he produced High-Tech Lincoln, a special which premiered on The History Channel.

Kevin Willmott, writer/producer/director
Kevin Willmott, writer/producer/director

As a screenwriter, Willmott co-wrote Shields Green And The Gospel Of John Brown with Mitch Brian. The script was purchased by Chris Columbus’ 1492 Productions for 20th Century Fox. He has also co-wrote Civilized Tribes for producer Robert Lawrence and 20th Century Fox. Producer and director Oliver Stone hired him to co-write Little Brown Brothers, about the Philippine Insurrection and to adapt the book Marching To Valhalla by Michael Blake. Willmott also adapted The Watsons Go To Birmingham for CBS, Columbia Tri-Star and Executive Producer Whoopi Goldberg. Willmott recently adapted and directed a stage version of The Watsons Go To Birmingham in New York and at Kansas City’s Coterie Theater.

The play T-Money And Wolf, written with Ric Averill, dealing with the holocaust and contemporary gang violence, was selected as part of the New Vision/New Voices series produced by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The play is published by Dramatic Publishing.

Willmott directed the premiere performances of Now Let Me Fly, a new play by Marcia Cebulska commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision to segregate public schools. The performances featured actors James McDaniel (NYPD Blue), Roger Aaron Brown (The District) and Yolanda King, and musical performers Queen Bey and Kelley Hunt.

Willmott grew up in Junction City, Kansas and attended Marymount College receiving his BA in Drama. After graduation, he returned home, working as a peace and civil rights activist, fighting for the rights of the poor, creating two Catholic Worker shelters for the homeless and forcing the integration of several long standing segregated institutions. He attended graduate studies at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, receiving several writing awards and his M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing.

Willmott is an Associate Professor in the Film Studies Department of Kansas University.

Scott Richardson, writer/producer
Scott Richardson, writer/producer

Scott Richardson


Scott Richardson has more than 30 years of experience working in film, television news and entertainment programming, visual and performing arts, communications and public affairs, national politics and free-lance writing for nationally known media outlets, corporations and organizations in New York, Washington and the Midwest.

Richardson is a producer of filmmaker Kevin Willmott’s independent features The Only Good Indian, starring Wes Studi (Avatar, Last of the Mohicans), which premiered at The Sundance Film Festival, and The Battle for Bunker Hill, starring James McDaniel (NYPD Blue) and Saeed Jaffrey (Gandhi), which recently won Best Picture at The Hoboken Film Festival. He works regularly with environmental artist Stan Herd and is producing and developing several feature film and short-form productions.

For television, Richardson produced three History Channel specials between 2001 and 2005: High-Tech Lincoln, about the new Lincoln Presidential Library; The Mystery of Jesse James, the pilot episode for the Bill Kurtis series Investigating History; and Inside The Presidency: Eisenhower Vs. Nixon, narrated by Roger Mudd. For The Dole Institute of Politics, he recently produced two hour-long specials hosted by Bill Kurtis that aired on PBS stations.

Since 1995, Richardson has written and consulted for a wide range of companies and organizations including A&E Network, Bill Kurtis Productions, Southwestern Bell / SBC, Media Link, Lifetime Television, AMC, We TV, Court TV and The Eisenhower Presidential Center. As a free-lance writer, his work has been published in The New York Times Magazine.

From 1990 until 1995, Richardson worked at A&E Television Networks, where he was Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications and helped launch The History Channel.

From 1988 until the end of 1990, he was with ABC News in New York, first on the staff of World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and later as Manager, News Information.

From 1979 until 1988, Richardson worked in Washington DC. He served for six years on the staff of U.S. Senator Bob Dole in a variety of positions, primarily as a press aide, and for three years as a media consultant to companies and industry groups.

During the fall semester of 2006, Richardson was a Fellow at The University of Kansas’ Dole Institute of Politics. He is member of The Kansas Film Commission, the board of The Americana Music Academy, and a former board member of The Cable Television Public Affairs Association and The National Cooperative Business Foundation.

He is a graduate of The University of Kansas, and lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife Leah and their two children.

Laura Kirk, executive producer
Laura Kirk, executive producer

Laura Kirk

Laura Kirk co-wrote and starred in the film “Lisa Picard is Famous,” directed by Griffin Dunne. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival it was featured in many International and American festivals. It was called hilarious by Stephen Holden of The New York Times and squirmingly funny by Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly. It is included in John Gaspard's book “Fast, Cheap and Under Control ... Lessons Learned from the Greatest Low Budget Movies of All Time.” In addition to “Jayhawkers,” Kirk has been developing “Emmett’s Black Body” along with legendary producer Fred Zollo (“Quiz Show,” “Mississippi Burning”), Tom Levine and Keith Beauchamp (“The Untold Story of Emmett Till,” “The Injustice Files”). Kevin Willmott wrote the script and will direct. “Jayhawkers” will be Kirk’s third collaboration with Kevin Willmott.

Recently, Kirk was executive producer and female lead of “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” written and directed by Blake Robbins. Kirk is writer and producer of a web series for Landline Productions (“Memphis”) about the indie band scene in Austin. Her other comedy script “American B.S.” is a collaboration about immigration law. Her drama script “Golden Triangle” is about the clash of cultures in meatpacking towns in the Midwest.

Laura Kirk, executive producer
Laura Kirk, executive producer

After graduating from the University of Kansas, Kirk started her career in New York City where she was a founding member of the Workhouse Theater Company and founding teacher for Dreamyard Drama Project now Dreamyard Prep School in the Bronx. Kirk’s training began in Wynn Handman’s audition-only studio, then Bill Esper’s studio and then improvisation with Alan Arkin continuing with his protégé Seth Michael May in an invited-only ensemble. Kirk acted in commercials (Diet Dr. Pepper, Wrangler Jeans, Verizon), industrials, television (“Third Watch,” “One Life to Live”) and film (“Earthwork,” “At First Sight,” “The Time Machine”).

Why do we need your help?

Independent film is both a challenge and a reward. For many of us Independent filmmakers, the phrase "It takes a village..." really speaks volumes. With the help of a platform like Kickstarter, we can take what we have always done before, (making a movie through the foundation of community) and create a global community to build with. 

Kevin Willmott has taken two films to the Sundance Film Festival in the past, and the goal is to do just that with "Jayhawkers". We want to celebrate our achievements at the most renowned film festival for Independent filmmakers around. Along the way, the ultimate goal is to achieve viable distribution, whether that means through major film festivals, or other avenues for viewers. We will do whatever it takes to get the story that we care so deeply for, out to those of you that want so badly (like us) to finally see happen. 

The story of these "Jayhawkers" is one that needs to be shared not only with Kansas fans, but fans of any basketball team, any university, and anyone that can share in the triumph and importance of social equality. 

We need you and your help to make our dream film, into a reality. 

So the challenge is set... 30 days to raise $50,000

And that... is only the begining. We will begin production in August, and with your donations and assistance, we will be able to achieve our goals. 

The money will go directly towards: production, cast & crew, rental costs, booking locations, craft services (can't forget to feed the crew), post production, distribution, marketing and advertising, and finally... prepping all of the materials to screen "Jayhawkers" at it's World Premiere!!!

It's time to stop waiting for history to be made, and to start making history yourself!!!

Thank you so much for all of your support!!

And don't forget to "like", share, "tweet", and email this to all of your friends that want to see this film become a reality!!!

Visit http://www.facebook.com/JayhawkersMovie for more info!!!

CASTING NEWS: Veteran character actor KIP NIVEN will be portraying Forrest "Phog" Allen in "Jayhawkers." Niven, a graduate of KU, has appeared in dozens of feature films during his 45-year career, including "In Cold Blood," "Earthquake," "Magnum Force" and "The Only Good Indian."

KIP NIVEN (Forrest "Phog" Allen)
KIP NIVEN (Forrest "Phog" Allen)

Niven joins actor BLAKE ROBBINS, ("Oz," "The Office") who will be playing KU Coach Dick Harp.

BLAKE ROBBINS (KU Coach Dick Harp)
BLAKE ROBBINS (KU Coach Dick Harp)

FAQ

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