Paducah's 'Big House' the focus of documentary

Two documentary filmmakers will visit Paducah for next month's Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration as part of their project chronicling the life and influence of a celebrated city son: the late Clarence "Big House" Gaines.

"One of the motivating things for this film is to make sure for future generations that his role and place in history is fully understood," said David Solomon of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"We think it has theatrical merit and probably would do very well at some of the upper level festivals," added co-producer Dan Lowenthal of New York City.

Production on "Man to Man," a feature-length documentary, began in February and examines Gaines' 46-year basketball coaching career at Winston-Salem State University and his relationships with players and the community. Born in Paducah in 1923, Gaines led Winston-Salem to the 1967 Division II national championship, the first historically black school to win an NCAA title.

This year's Eighth of August celebration will go far in honoring Gaines, the first black coach inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He died in 2005.

On Aug. 7, the Paducah/McCracken County branch of the NAACP will unveil a Gaines monument at Robert Coleman Park, South Ninth and Husbands streets. Immediately after will be an unveiling of the Clarence Gaines Street sign at Burks Chapel A.M.E. Church.

There will be a banquet later the same night at the Cherry Civic Center in honor of Gaines. Several of his former players, including Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, as well as family members have been invited, the NAACP reported.

Solomon and Lowenthal said they plan to conduct interviews and shoot film during the local celebration. They're also seeking additional material from residents.

"We want to tell the story of Paducah and this young man Clarence Gaines and his family," said Solomon, who knew the legendary coach for years. "To do that, we need to locate as many rich archival photographs, family pictures, films and home movies that we can that depict Paducah from Big House's beginnings in the '20s until he graduated high school in the '40s. "We want to be able to tell that story as visually and graphically as we can. If anyone in the Paducah area can help us, that would be terrific."

Gaines guards dish on old coach

Another visitor coming to Paducah for the Gaines events will be his former point guard and assistant coach Tim Grant. He played for Gaines from 1976 to 1980, was his assistant from 1981 to 1993, and will be interviewed by Solomon and Lowenthal for the film.

"I heard so many stories over the years about Paducah," Grant said Friday from Winston-Salem. "I told my wife, 'You know what? I've got to go. I can't miss this.'"

Grant said Paducah "produced a giant of a man" in Gaines, a reference to his physical stature, personality and accomplishments.

"A lot of people would probably believe he just dealt with basketball. No, huh uh," he said. "He used basketball to teach you a whole lot about life. His philosophy was, when he recruited you and you came to play for him, you were a boy. By the time he finished with you, you should have become a man. He stressed things like honesty, good character and integrity."

Ted Blunt, of Wilmington, Delaware, played for Gaines from 1961 to 1965. He played in the same backcourt with Monroe and was an All-American in 1964 and 1965.

Blunt went on to a successful career in education and politics. He served the Wilmington City Council for 16 years, including eight as president.

His daughter, Lisa Blunt Rochester, is the first woman and African-American to represent Delaware in Congress. "I think of him every day," Blunt said of his former coach. "All of the things I've been able to accomplish and achieve would not have been possible without his guidance and understanding, the conversations we constantly had, and the value he placed in me."

Blunt, who has been interviewed for "Man to Man," echoed Grant's sentiments that Gaines cared more about his players than simply what they produced on the hardwood.

"He used the words 'life after basketball,'" Blunt said. "He wanted to make sure we were prepared to do other things than just be an athlete that we went to class and understood the rules, whether we were on a job, running for office, or serving our community. He also talked about the importance of being a father and a father figure."

Blunt said Gaines "went beyond the traditional borders of the South," and reached out to people of all races while trying to make Winston-Salem a "better place for everybody."

"He engaged with people and not just those in basketball circles -- it was politics, civics and social clubs," Blunt said. "His philosophy was if you're in a room and you know everybody, you're in the wrong room, which meant you had to go beyond your natural borders."

Finding home for finished film

Lowenthal, the New York co-producer, said he's been a fan of the Gaines film project for years, going back to when he originally read Solomon's script. He anticipates finishing the project in January or February and then shopping it to distributors.

"We're going to go to HBO, Showtime, ESPN, even PBS because it has a great historical significance," he said.

"There are many potential outlets for this film."

The filmmakers emphasize that "Man to Man" will be more than a sports movie.

"Over the course of six decades, (Gaines) changed the lives of countless people," Solomon said. "There are dozens and dozens of players who point to him as turning their life around, that he gave their life focus and direction that transcended sports, transcended basketball."