– DAVID ANSPAUGH, Dir. of “Hoosiers.” and “Rudy.”
- MIKE TOLLIN – Producer/Director - “Bronx is Burning,” “Radio,” “Coach Carter.”
– MORGAN SPURLOCK, Director of “Super Size Me,” and ESPN’s “The Dotted Line.”
-PETER GILBERT Co-Director, Producer of “Hoop Dreams.”
– MIKE TOLLIN, Producer/Director “Bronx is Burning,” “Coach Carter,” and “Radio.”
-ROGER TOWNE - Writer of "The Natural."
– ANGELO PIZZO, writer of “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.”
-DAVID ANSPAUGH – Director of "Hoosiers" and "Rudy.”
- KEVIN WRIGHT, Head Football Coach, Carmel, Indiana HS
-ANGELO PIZZO - Writer of both “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.”
– LAIRD HAYES, owner of QBR football camp and an NFL Side Judge #125
MORGAN SPURLOCK - Director of "Super Size Me.”
-LEIGH STEINBERG - Legendary Sports Agent who inspired “Jerry McGuire.”
Rick Cohen (left) puts microphone on Greenville coach Jeremy Williams (Photo by AJC’s Jason Getz)
GREENVILLE — Greenville High coach Jeremy Williams wears two different types of microphones during his team’s football games.
The first is a headset, neatly tucked under the coach’s baseball cap. It’s not for communication with other coaches, but rather to amplify the words out of Williams’ mouth. His once-powerful voice has been reduced to nearly whispers in recent months because of symptoms of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The headset is wired to a speaker-like box tied around the dwindling waist of the coach.
The second one is a tiny wireless microphone that Williams wears near the collar of his shirt. It picks up the coach’s words for the documentary “Season of a Lifetime,” which is based on Williams and his inspirational attitude toward the terminal illness. (For more information on the documentary, go to www.seasonofalifetime.tv.)
Atlanta filmmaker Rick Cohen and his crew have been following Williams since April.
“This is the true story of a high school football coach who unselfishly prayed for adversity to help improve his team and received it in the form of ALS,” Cohen said, explaining his appeal to the project.
“Through Jeremy’s beliefs, his trust and his faith, he’s convinced the illness is a blessing not a curse — a direct message from God. To Jeremy, his illness is a way to reach out to his players with challenging family situations, to help mend the once-racially divided town, and to encourage his son stricken with spina bifida — and in an amazing way for the rest of the world to see.”
“The message is clear — we are not promised one more day here on earth, so make the most of every day and make a difference.”
Cohen, 45, is an independent filmmaker with Endorphin Entertainment and an executive producer with Fisheye Media Productions, the two Atlanta-based companies that have partnered to produce “Season of a Lifetime.” Since last spring, Cohen has made nearly 30 trips to Greenville (located in Meriwether County in west central Georgia) to film segments of Williams with his players, family members, former college teammates, church family and others.
The plan is to film Williams and the Patriots until the end of this season. Said Cohen, “As far as they go, that’s where this marvelous journey will end. If it’s the first round of the playoffs, so be it. If it’s the Georgia Dome [for the state championship], then God willing.”
After the season, Cohen will huddle in the studio for three months of postproduction, with the hope of turning out a rough draft of the documentary by March. “Season of a Lifetime” will be entered in several film festivals in late 2011 in an attempt to attract a distribution deal to release it in theaters for 2012.
Cohen became interested after reading last year’s media accounts of the frail coach leading Greenville to an undefeated regular season, losing to the eventual state champions in the second round of the playoffs.
Through mutual friends, Cohen arranged a meeting with Williams in January. Other filmmakers, including representatives from HBO and ESPN, had expressed interest in telling the story.
“Why give this story to you?” Williams asked.
“Have any of these so-called big boys come down to visit you in Greenville?” Cohen replied.
Williams shook his head “no.”
“Well, then I guess they don’t want to tell your story as bad enough as we do,” Cohen said, causing both men to share a laugh.
Williams said he eventually agreed to participate in the documentary “to do a true account of how God has affected our team in a very positive way.”
The coach’s health has worsened in recent months. He is wearing a feeding tube while he sleeps at night. He wears the voice amplifier so others can hear him speak throughout the day. During games, Williams moves around the field in a motorized wheelchair. It is a long way from last season, when he insisted on standing on the sidelines.
“Jeremy is in good spirits … he is in the midst of where he loves to be — and that’s around 45 players during football season,” said his wife, Jennifer Williams.
Williams and his team barely noticed when three cameras focused on them in a victory against Macon County a couple of weeks ago.
“Everybody is used to it, well except for the freshmen,” Greenville quarterback Mario Alford said with a laugh. “Those freshmen, they try to get in front of the camera at every opportunity.”
After Alford ran for a touchdown in Greenville’s 41-12 win over Macon County, Williams motioned for his quarterback by nodding his head up and down. Alford took a knee by the side of the wheelchair and put his arm around the coach as the two shared a smile.
“We all want to win for coach,” Alford said. “He’s a big inspiration, not only for our football team, but also the entire community.
“It’s a good thing that this movie is being made because a lot of other people will be able to see what a great man he is.”
by Steve Hummer
GREENVILLE — Over the span of two football seasons, the story of the small-town high school coach persevering through the relentless withering of his limbs, his wind and his voice has been told in many forms.
[quote style="1"]Jason Getz email@example.com Using a motorized wheelchair, Greenville coach Jeremy Williams talks with quarterback Mario Alford during their win against Macon County Friday night in Greenville, Ga., Sept. 17, 2010. Williams continues to coach despite battling ALS. He now uses a motorized wheelchair and a golf cart along with a microphone to amplify his voice to assist him to coach during game night.[/quote]
ord has spread, despite the remoteness of the school and the sometime spotty cell phone service in this part of west Georgia. From a 2009 series in this newspaper, to a 2010 appearance on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” to various national and regional news shows, Jeremy Williams has broadcast a message of faith and hope in the face of terminal illness, a message that has spread far beyond the piney woods that curtain this tiny Georgia town.His story is about to be reprised once more, in a full-length documentary filmed by Sandy Springs’ Rick Cohen and Atlanta-area producers Chris Pullaro, Bob McAllister and Jason Haley.
“Season of a Lifetime” will have a special advance screening Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts. Tickets are $25, with proceeds going to the Georgia Chapter of the ALS Association. For information, go to seasonofalifetime.tv.
Members of the Greenville High band will play. The smell of barbecue will linger in the air. All intended to create a sort of tailgate in May and invite viewers to get in the mood to relive the Greenville Patriots’ 2010 season.
Poignantly, the film ends with various Greenville players talking in simple, heart-felt words about how they hope Williams will be remembered — in effect writing epitaphs for their coach while he can hear them.
Now confined to a wheelchair because of the progression of his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Williams is scheduled to be there for this first screening, along with his wife, Jennifer, and their two children.
The film traces the Patriots’ 2010 season, intermingling the stories of the Williams’ family — its struggles and its unbreakable faith — with those of a small town and the young men who are growing up there. It is “Friday Night Lights” intersecting with “The Lou Gehrig Story.”
“It’s a love story, about the love between a man and his family, and man and his team and a man and his community,” Cohen said.
For the filmmaker, the journey from concept to finished film involved wearing a groove on the stretch of Georgia Highway 27A that leads from I-85 to Greenville. A long string of visits to the school, the town, the Williams’ home, Jeremy’s doctor, his church and every Greenville game produced more than 250 hours of footage to distill into a 100-minute tale.
Cohen’s research led him to a singular observation: “I never met a man who didn’t have an enemy. That was until I met Jeremy Williams.”
And any lessons Cohen happened to learn along the way were a bonus. Such as the admonition Williams routinely gave him to live every day like it was his last, telling the guy behind the camera, “I could out-live you, you don’t know.”
For the subjects, submitting to a documentary meant opening their lives even more than they had in any of the other versions of their story.
Sometimes they battled with the idea of allowing cameras into private places — a doctor’s examination room where a shirtless Williams revealed the desiccating effects of his disease, along for the morning routine in which his young daughter helped him dress, into the locker room and the vault containing all a team’s secrets. But they stayed on course, compromising occasionally, maintaining the belief that there was a message that needed to get out.
Asked what he hoped to show in the film, Williams said, “That when things get tough, you can be tough and still show love.”
His wife expanded: “I really hope that people see that, no matter what they might face in life, that through Christ, they can not only get through it but also live a happy, joyful life.”
How the message will be spread is still uncertain. Cohen hopes to enter the movie in series of film festivals, where it might gain notoriety.
So, if it led to a feature film — set in a place where the nearest movie theater is 25 miles away — who would play the lead?
“I’m not going to worry about that,” chuckled Williams.
“I’m thinking Ryan Reynolds,” said Cohen, invoking the Canadian-born star, a perennial entry in People’s Sexiest Men Alive.
The Williams of the 2010 documentary wore a small amplifying device to boost the power of his voice (ALS sufferers slowly lose the ability to speak). In the cold of the final regular-season game that year, Williams, his thin frame unable to ward off the chill, coached from the press box.
The one interviewed last week at the school appeared to have a little more difficulty speaking and breathing and generally getting around. Battling a virus, he did not take part in any of his team’s spring practice.
“I have good days and bad days. I’m not bad now,” he said last week.
There was one question that prompted Williams to pause, draw in as much air as he could and answer as emphatically as possible.
Are you going to coach next season?
“I am,” he said.
The football schedule — Greenville opens at home Aug. 26 against Dooly County
— is seemingly at odds with the grim schedule of Williams’ disease. Still, he presses on as ever, looking to make his own sequel, to script one more season of a lifetime.
By: Dave Zeitlin C’03
Class of ’87 | Rick Cohen C’87 came to Penn as a highly touted football player and left as little more than a four-year benchwarmer for the Quakers—or, as he put it, “one of 1,000 high-school All American players that get to play college football and wind up doing nothing.” The experience was a humbling one for Cohen, who, as a smart, popular high-school jock from Long Island, was used to things going his way. But it also proved instrumental in developing the kind of attitude necessary to discover his true ambition.
Later, through failed marriages, career changes, cross-country moves, parental disapproval, and a devastating car accident that very nearly smashed his dreams, Cohen did the same thing he had done during his Penn football days: he kept showing up. And now, with his past hardships serving mostly as a catalyst, Cohen has carved out the career that he always wanted: as a filmmaker specializing in sports documentaries that explore the human condition.
Written By: Penn Gazette Blog
In the recent issue of the Gazette, I profiled filmmaker Rick Cohen C’87, who long before he began making movies, was a football player at Penn. Standing by itself, that may not sound remarkable. But when you consider that three other former Penn football players from the mid-80s are also now filmmakers, well, then it suddenly seems more extraordinary.