It’s hard to believe we have passed the one year mark in the making of “Lights Out in Blackham”, we are at day 460 to be precise. Along the way, we have met so many people who have changed our lives in so many ways, some good some not so good. We have stood tall and fallen down over and over again. The one thing I am most proud of is that we always managed to get back up and keep grinding away. That is, in part, due to another year marker that has come to pass today; saying goodbye to Coach. I can’t count how many times I’ve wished, when things get tough i wish i could simply pull up to that house to ask for advice, already knowing the answer. I would hear him say “Well boy…you just gunna have to tough it up and get after it.” That’s about as complicated as it would get with Beryl.
After another day spent chatting with Coach, he relaxed in his easy chair. Watching us tear down our gear and roll up tons of extension cords. He quipped, “man…you four, this is a team if I ever seen one!” My reply was as always, a thank you veiled in humor; “oh no…does that mean you’re gunna make us run stadiums? ” But in that one statement lay , a small exchange of respect and admiration from both sides. It has stuck with me to this day and it keeps us rolling.
As a kid shooting hoops on the driveway I heard a mention or two of the high flying Cajuns from my dad but it wasn’t until twenty years later that we came up with the idea of turning this story into a full length film. We began this project without an idea of where it would go and even less of an idea of how we would get there. Twenty years after the dramatic fade away jumpers on the driveway, we started like anything else, with a simple communication to the Shipley camp to see if he would even be interested. We had no idea the lightning we were about to let out of the bottle. Not only was he interested but hewanted to meet the following day and begin shooting ASAP, and we did just that.
We were able to witness first hand something that many thought would never happen. We witnessed the president of the university, in his home, to present him with a symbol of recognition for all he had done, for the first time in forty years, it was something I will never forget. After he received his award for being the winningest coach in school history, he looked at me and I gave him a thumbs up as he relaxed back with a laugh and a smile
. After wrapping up our first session, he excitedly asked “So when can i see this thing?”
We shared a silent exchange that communicated he wouldn’t, and his reply was “Well if I don’t get to see it then you make sure EVERYONE does.” At that moment, I knew our task had grown. We slowly got acquainted with each other at a time in one’s life where new friendships are rarely made. We often spent more time chatting after wrapping for the day than we spent shooting. The time came that I made a decision, out of respect, to still uphold our bi-weekly meetings but without cameras. We would simply visit, watch basketball together, and listen to what he had to say about his life.
On April 15th, 2011, we were able to go over and show Beryl our first example of something concrete, a small sign that we were in it for long haul; a simple 11×17 movie poster that had “go get em!” scrawled at the top. This was a line that had changed his life in many ways some forty years ago. He held it in his hands and said one line, “this is…beautiful.” My dad was also there at Coach’s request so he could say thank you, for what Beryl considered “keeping the story alive”. That was Beryl’s style. We would then leave him to spend time with his family and rest for the evening.
Twelve months ago, we were loading in our gear after a fantastic interview on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We were all elated by how things were going and the momentum we had already gained. The murky waters we hadn’t yet known existed ahead where far off in the distance. Ever since my first communication with the Shipley camp, I knew time was a finite resource that would soon be in short supply. As we walked in the door and sat down, the phone rang and we received the news of Coach’s passing. My perspective quickly shifted to that of simply being a cog in a wheel of something much larger and more important than myself. The relevance of our efforts seemed trivial at best. A community lost a leader, passionate onlookers lost a hero, his players parted with a general. Most important of all, a family said good bye to a father. We sat down and re evaluated our role in the grand scheme of things and once again I thought about the commendation we received from the general himself. We were a team, we had a goal and it was time to follow Coach’s advice, “ tough it up and get after it.”
From that point on, we went into overdrive and we haven’t stopped since. We have shot interview after interview, scoured the nation for needles in haystacks, searching for any glimpse of footage from the team. We have spent hours on end explaining our requests to any archivist and sports information department that would listen, all while slowly shaping our film along the way. The time came for us to reach out to the community and line up what we thought of as the most important job interview any of us had ever had; a full scale tribute to Beryl to let Lafayette know we were serious. I was blown away by the dedication the city of Lafayette has towards continuing what Beryl started here ; a winning a philosophy both on and off the court. For the first time, we didn’t lead the charge but walked side by side with a community of people dedicated to one common goal.
I only knew Beryl for a very short ninety-seven days in comparison with many others. For most people, ninety-seven days isn’t enough to forge a bond that will last a lifetime, but then again Beryl Shipley doesn’t fall into the realm of “most people” . Our ninety-seven days is simply another milestone, because he lives on to this day in the hearts, minds, eyes and smiles of all of those we encounter. Beryl lives on today in every student that is given a helping hand from his scholarship, every child that attended his basketball camps and has gone on the share the game with others. He lives in every fan that can’t hold back the smile when they speak of the excitement of the Shipley era at USL, even every opposing player and coach who got their butt handed to them by the “red man” as they shout ”they were too good! There was nothing we could do!”. To quote Coach Tom Cox, “Beryl left different sized hand prints on all of us” and for that we say thank you for helping our team take part in something greater than all of us.