Photo by Theo Tate
(Left photo) William “Red” Schmitt (left) and Gene Baker talk after the movie ended. Schmitt coached the GCHS wrestling team for 35 years and Baker coached the GCHS soccer program for 27.
At 11:11 a.m. Feb. 7, Theater No. 3 at the Granite City Cinema was packed.
More than 100 people got to see a 48-minute documentary about three legendary athletic coaches at Granite City High School — Gene Baker, William “Red” Schmitt and Conrad “Babe” Champion. The movie was called, “Legendary Coaches of Granite City.”
After the movie was over, Ginny Henson was standing in the theater with a smile on her face.
“It was wonderful,” said Henson, who works as an aide at GCHS. “Absolutely wonderful.”
Henson was the one who came up with the idea of having a movie that chronicles the accomplishments of Baker, Schmitt and Champion. Baker coached the GCHS boys’ soccer team to nine state championships, Schmitt has 589 wins in his 35 years as Granite City wrestling coach, leading the Warriors to one state title; and Champion played for the 1948 GCHS state championship baseball team and coached the program for many years.
“I began to realize that the kids don’t know our coaches who built the dynasties here,” Henson said. “That started me thinking, ‘How can we get them recognized?’ We’re going to lose these men and all of that history is going to be gone and our kids aren’t going to know them. That’s how that started. Karen Robertson (another GCHS staff member) and I would sit around and we would talk about it ... and we came up with this idea of interviewing them. I would approach different people about it, but it was like monumental and nobody knew what to do.”
At the beginning of the school year, Henson ran into Andrew Crider, who heads the journalism department at GCHS. He’s also the assistant coach for the Warrior boys’ soccer team.
“She came to me with the idea that we should do some sort of video about the coaches that we have here,” said Crider, who graduated from GCHS in 2002. “All of the incredible coaches like coach Champion, coach Baker and coach Schmitt. We decided that we’ll do it. We thought it would be a small video, but it turns out that they’re so important. They’re so integral to the community. It’s just got bigger and bigger and we decided we’ll do an interview with each of them.”
Crider produced and directed the movie and got help from numerous students such as Ben Klee, Alex Kass, Megan Burge, Alec DeYong, Jordan James, Tori Mitchell, James Shrum and Luis Ybarra. It took about six months to complete the project.
“These kids have been working tirelessly to complete this,” Crider said. “We worked after school and before school.”
Klee, a senior at GCHS, interviewed all three coaches. Henson, GCHS athletic director John Moad and head wrestling coach George Kirgan also were among the people interviewed in the movie.
“Mr. Crider talked to me about it and he said, ‘Ben, we’re going to be put this in your hands. You’re the right guy for the job. You know how to interview. I want you to do this.’ I couldn’t say no,” Klee said. “I thought it was a great idea. I had to do it. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.”
Klee, who plans to major in mass communications in college next year, said he thanked Crider and Henson for the chance to be the interviewer for the film.
“Mr. Crider is like an older brother and a second dad to me,” he said. “He taught me so much over the past years about interviewing and writing and life in general. He’s one of the most influential people in my life. I couldn’t thank him enough. He’s done so much for me. Ginny is one the sweetest ladies I’ve met in my life.”
Crider said he was happy that the film was shown at the Granite City Cinema, which was built in 2010. After the movie was over, DVDs became available.
“When we were close to the finish, we thought that might be a cool idea if the cinema would allow us to use their screens to show it and premiere it,” Crider said. “We weren’t sure how they would react because they have to make their money. That’s why we were doing it on a Sunday morning because they’re contracted to show movies at a particular time. We weren’t interfering with any of those movie times. We wanted to do it even bigger. We wanted to do it like a Friday night with the red carpet, but it just didn’t work out. But this is still cool and it’s still a lot of fun.”
Baker, Schmitt and Champion were in attendance at the movie theater.
“That was amazing,” Henson said. “I see Babe all of the time, I see Red at the wrestling holiday tournament, but I don’t see coach Baker as often as I would like. We all think he’s God. If he would be the Pied Pieper, we would follow him anywhere he wanted to go.”
Henson said she was thrilled that her idea of having a movie on all three coaches came to fruition.
“It was unbelievable to me and I was nervous all night,” she said. “I felt like a little kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus. That’s how I felt all night thinking about this. I was so excited and I hadn’t seen it, so I got to see it for the first time and I was so pleased and they did a great job.”