Bryan J. Smith, Only In Ogden
Editor's note: Deseret News designer Josh Ferrin, grandson of former Ute great Arnie Ferrin, co-authored the recently released book "Blitz Kids" with his father, Tres Ferrin, about the 1944 University of Utah NCAA Championship basketball team. This is the final of a four-part series in which the Deseret News features excerpts and some thoughts from that NCAA Tournament run.
"Hello. This is David Howard. I'm a screenwriter in Hollywood and I recently read your manuscript and, well, I love it. Can we talk? I think I've got some friends who might be interested in optioning the film rights."
After hearing that voicemail message, I had to sit down. My co-author, and father, and I had heard that an early copy of our book had been passed on to someone in Hollywood but I never dared to imagine hearing a message like this on my cell phone.
My whole life, I've been recognized for my last name. Even while living in New York, I had a sports editor ask me on our first meeting, "You aren't related to the Arnie Ferrin, are you?"
It's tough being the grandson of a local sports legend when you can't dribble the length of the court without traveling. My 8-year-old son plays better basketball than I do. The basketball gene skipped right over me.
Several years ago, I realized that I still had a part to play in my family history. I would never be named Most Outstanding Player in a national championship game like Arnie was. I wouldn't play for the Lakers and I wouldn't be named to any hall of fame.
But I could be the one to tell his story.
Being a non-athlete, I knew little about basketball other than what my father had tried to teach me as a child. Luckily, my father agreed to help me write the book. It wasn't easy, and it took longer than we expected, but we muddled through it. Me — an artist, and my father — a physical therapist — took turns writing over each other's awkward words.
My second child, Oliver, was only a few months old when we started and he refused to fall asleep unless he was held. Most of what I wrote in "Blitz Kids" was typed late at night with one hand, the other holding my sleeping son.
Luckily, we had a great story to tell. The tale of the University of Utah basketball team's improbable road to the 1944 NCAA Tournament is one of the great stories of college basketball.
It isn't just a Cinderella story, it's the tale of how sports can teach a nation how to forget it's war-time wounds, if only for two halves of basketball and one overtime.
It's the tale of how one player, Wat Misaka, overcame a nation of prejudice and become the first person of minority descent in professional basketball. It's also a tragedy; a horrific accident involving two players and an assistant coach for the University of Arkansas that ultimately afforded Utah a last-minute berth into the NCAA Tournament.
As we wrote in Blitz Kids:
"To the players of the 1944 championship team prominence or recognition means little. They never set out to win attention or fame, and it was a surprise to them when it happened. They simply had a passion that could not be contained in spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They are content to have been participants in a victory, both tragic and beautiful, the likes of which we will probably never see again."
Since we finished writing "Blitz Kids," Tres and I landed a literary agent in New York. Last year, Gibbs Smith Publishing offered to publish the book. It was released just a few weeks ago. The screenwriter got together with a few producers and optioned the film rights to the book. A screenplay has been written and the film is currently in pre-production. Recently, the producers signed a co-production agreement with Sports Studios, which has helped produce dozens of feature films from "Moneyball" to "Remember the Titans."
As exciting as these developments are, they pale in comparison to quieter moments. At a recent book signing, an older gentleman walked up to Wat and Arnie with our book in his hands.
"You guys were my heroes growing up. I've told my kids about you for years, but now they can read the whole story themselves."
That moment, for me, was enough. To know that the unbelievable tale of the 1944 Utah basketball team won't be forgotten made all those late nights worth it.
Along the way, my father and I both discovered a love of writing and a joy in family history. We faced disappointments and moments of pure absurdity like a phone call from a screenwriter in Hollywood. A rare and beautiful story was waiting for me to find it, right in my own family tree. All I had to do was take the time to ask my grandfather about his life and write down what he said. I have to wonder, what other great stories are waiting to be told?
Players of the 1944 Championship team and the authors of Blitz Kids will be signing copies of the book on March 31st at the Red Zone store at 10497 State St. in Sandy from 12-2 p.m.
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