Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
In 2005, an unlikely team of high school boys in Gibsonburg, Ohio, had one of their worst baseball seasons ever with a first-year coach, only to come back in tournament play to win the state championship. Their amazing true-story inspired a book and movie, titled “Gibsonburg,” and director Bob Mahaffey was promoting the film at Portsmouth 8 Cinema Friday afternoon.
But the amazing success of the newcomer writer and director is just as impressive.
“They won six games during the regular season. They lost 17 games — 13 in a row. They were (eliminated) seven times (for mercy rule surpassing the run-threshold), and they lost the last game of the regular season by a score of 17-to-0,” Mahaffey said. “In the state of Ohio, every high school baseball team gets the opportunity to play in the sectional tournament. If you win, you go to districts and if you win districts you go to regional.”
That’s exactly what happened in Gibsonburg, making the first and only team in the United States to win the state championship with a losing record. Mahaffey said it was a magical and unbelievable series of events.
“I’m from around that area and I just heard about the story, but when I heard how this team won the games … because the kids were all five-foot-eight, 140 pounds. Not one went on to play college baseball. What happened is, people said ‘Was the pitching great? Did their bats get hot? Did their coach pull them together?’ Not really. It wasn’t any of that. What happened in every single one of the eight games, something very quirky happened to help them win,” Mahaffey said.
He recalls one game when a player for Gibsonburg — who had never in his life hit a home run — hit two home runs against the toughest pitcher in the state from Fremont St. Joe. Gibsonburg won that game 6-5.
The story inspired Mahaffey to write a book about the events, and he titled it “Gibsonburg.” It was the first time he had ever tried to write a book of its kind. Before the book was published last summer, Mahaffey decided he wanted to adapt his book to film. Like the book before it, he had never written a screenplay until now, and he used 50 unpaid college students from all around Ohio to film his movie.
“We entered it in film festivals and it was actually picked up by a film festival called Dances With Films out of L.A. They look at 1,500 films and pick 21 and we were one. It showed at Graumans Chinese Theater last summer and a distributor picked it up … and we’re in more than 50 theaters in Ohio from June 7 through June 13,” Mahaffey said.
Before the film opens, Mahaffey and a few of the stars from the film are touring Ohio theaters promoting its release. Their roaming Recreational Vehicle made stops in Columbus, Cincinnati, Chillicothe and more. On Friday they stopped at Portsmouth 8 Cinema to promote the film with free posters, t-shirts, snacks, and copies of Mahaffey’s book. Mahaffey was also there to talk about the film while previewing the trailer, which is also available online at YouTube.com and the film’s Facebook site at www.facebook.com/GibsonburgTheMovie.
“I had this vision. I wanted to go do the smaller towns; the smaller town theaters where no one competes,” Mahaffey said. “Portsmouth is a baseball town. They love their baseball here. I think just the idea of Portsmouth as such as great baseball town, I hope it will do well.”
Portsmouth 8 Cinema Manager Tom Euton said he was excited to have Mahaffey at the cinema on Friday and is looking forward to opening the film on June 7. He likened the story to the basketball film “Hoosiers.”
“He knows we’re a big baseball-oriented area,” Euton said. “This is a big baseball town and ‘42’ (a recent movie about Jackie Robinson and Scioto County native Branch Rickey) done really well here and maybe this will motivate some kids to get them in here to see a good movie.”
The film opens in limited theaters, including Portsmouth 8 Cinema on June 7. It will be available on DVD and OnDemand this summer. More information about the movie can be found online at www.facebook.com/GibsonburgTheMovie, where followers can register to win the same 1968 Pontiac Firebird seen in the film.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.