Saturday, January 12, 2002

Ky. basketball subject of documentary

By Sarah Buehrle
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — Kentucky Educational Television has put our history where our hearts are: the bounce-pass and the fadeaway jumper. A History of Basketball in Kentucky: Great Balls of Fire, is a KET-produced documentary that spans 107 years of the game from the playground level to the professional. It covers little-known or forgotten Kentucky basketball teams in addition to the present-day stars.

        “It's kind of crucial to the social fabric of the state,” independent filmmaker Tom Thurman said. He's the documentary's producer and director. “There are so many elements of culture that can be viewed through the prism of basketball; gender, race relations, economics and community. And it's something that we're damned good at.”

  The documentary will air at 8 p.m. March 5 and 6 during KET's “Telefund” event. The video, with an extra hour of previously unaired clips, will be given to donors, Tom Thurman said.
        The four-hour, $800,000 documentary, narrated by National Public Radio host — and Louisville native — Bob Edwards, features interviews with more than 150 people, according Mr. Thurman.

        A 10-minute clip of the documentary will be previewed tonight12 at a KET fund-raising dinner at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

        Mr. Thurman pointed out that the University of Kentucky has produced 38 All America players, more than any other university, and that in the 1930s, legendary UCLA coach John Wooden got his coaching start at Dayton High School in Campbell County.

        The documentary, in four one-hour segments, features now-defunct schools and teams such as the Cuba Cubs, a Western Kentucky team that won the state championship in 1952.

        The documentary explores the history of women's basketball in the state, and interviews Kentucky's first Miss Basketball, Newport High School's Donna Murphy, who won the title in 1975.

        “I played at a time when women looking to play athletics were often ridiculed,” said Ms. Murphy, Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Famer and current professor at UK's Lexington Community College.

        “I've been in a lot of things, but that (honor) meant the most to me because it validated what I was doing.”

        One of the most notable segments in the project, according to Mr. Thurman, is about segregation. The documentary highlights the Kentucky High School Athletic League, an African-American league that formed because black players were not allowed on white teams. The league crowned its first state champion in 1932.

        Production on A History of Basketball in Kentucky, which began three years ago, relied heavily on Kentucky High School Athletic Association archives, said Mr. Thurman, who also produced Movies of Color, a documentary of African-American independent cinema, for PBS.

        He is proud he could salvage 16mm footage of decades-old basketball games, he said.

        When production is finished, Mr. Thurman intends to donate the footage, possibly to the archives at Eastern Kentucky University.

        KET director of production Craig Cornwell formulated the idea for the documentary five years ago. He has seen much of the film in production.

        “It covers the gamut of Kentucky basketball,” Mr. Cornwell said. “We've gleaned some incredible stories, not only educational but entertaining ones. We can't fit it all in.”

        The documentary will air at 8 p.m. March 5 and 6 during KET's “Telefund” event. The video, with an extra hour of previously unaired clips, will be given to donors, Mr. Thurman said.


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- Ky. basketball subject of documentary