MACLAINE AND HURT TO STAR IN 'MEN OF GRANITE' ABOUT 1940 STATE CHAMPS
Belleville News-Democrat, IL
July 8 2015
by Teri Maddox
Babe Champion is thrilled that Hollywood producers are making a movie
about the Granite City High School basketball team that won the state
championship in 1940.
The fact that Academy Award winners William Hurt and Shirley MacLaine
will play starring roles is icing on the cake.
"It's really going to happen," said Champion, 82, of Granite City, a
community activist who has been helping to promote the idea for years.
Champion served as a local contact for Dan Manoyan, a retired Wisconsin
sportswriter and author of the 2007 book "Men of Granite," on which
the movie will be based.
Director Dwayne Johnson-Cochran and other crew gathered in Granite
City recently to scout possible filming locations, although most
scenes will be shot in the Cleveland area.
"Frankly, many of the old storefronts (in downtown Granite City)
have been torn down," said producer Valerie McCaffrey, 60, speaking
by phone from Los Angeles. She also is a casting director, who has
worked on dozens of movies, including "American History X," "Babe,"
"Hard Candy" and "Dark City."
"Men of Granite" will be produced by the independent company Outpost
Media and Valerie McCaffrey Productions. Filming is expected to last
"From what I've heard, we're going to get the cameras rolling in
early August," said Manoyan, 64, of Kenosha, Wis.
Seven of 10 players on the Warriors basketball team were sons of
Armenian, Yugoslavian, Macedonian and Hungarian immigrants who moved
to Granite City in the early 1900s to work in steel mills. They lived
in a neighborhood known as "Lincoln Place." Commonwealth Steel Co.
provided materials to build a community center, where the boys played
"All successful sports movies have an underdog, and these guys were
the ultimate underdogs," said Manoyan, who spent his last 20 years of
sportswriting at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "They weren't accepted
in their own hometown. They were poor as hell. They couldn't even
afford shoes to play basketball in the gym of their community center."
The boys "rented" tennis shoes by doing chores for Sophia Prather, a
former teacher hired to manage the center. She fought against bigotry
while teaching English and other skills to the Eastern Europeans.
Prather will be played in the movie by MacLaine, 81, whose many awards
include a Best Actress Oscar for the 1983 movie "Terms of Endearment."
"Sophia Prather was called the 'Mother of Lincoln Place,'" said
Champion, a retired P.E. and health teacher and basketball and
The championship team's 6-foot-3 captain was Hungarian Andy Phillip, a
starter since sophomore year. He helped persuade Coach Byron Bozarth to
give his immigrant friends a chance. After graduation, Phillip went on
to play basketball at the University of Illinois, serve in World War II
and spend 11 years with the NBA, most notably with the Boston Celtics.
"(At U of I) they were called the 'Whiz Kids,'" Manoyan said. "They
were arguably the greatest basketball team in the history of Illinois."
Bozarth will be played in the movie by William Hurt, 65, who won a
Best Actor Oscar for the 1985 movie "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
Champion was 8 years old when GCHS won the state tournament. Thousands
of Granite City residents celebrated by forming a parade and marching
to Lincoln Place.
"Back in those days, you didn't cross the tracks after 9 o'clock,"
Champion said. "But after the championship, it eased up the stereotypes
and brought everybody together."
All the team's coaches and all but three players (John Markarian,
Andy Hagopian and Everett Daniels) are deceased.
Manoyan sold an estimated 1,500 copies of "Men of Granite." He had
self-published it so he could maintain full rights.
"I realized from the start that it had real movie potential, and that
was my goal," he said, calling the story "better than 'Hoosiers,'"
referring to the 1986 classic high school basketball movie with
Manoyan tried to drum up interest in Hollywood without much luck
before finding McCaffrey's name online. She had served as casting
director for the 2012 movie "Lost and Found in Armenia." McCaffrey
grew up in a large Armenian family whose history is similar to that
of the Lincoln Place immigrants.
"My grandparents didn't speak any English (when they came to the
United States), and my parents had to forge their own way," she said.
McCaffrey took note that one of the Granite City basketball players
went into dry cleaning, the same business that helped her Armenian
uncle become a millionaire.
She also admired the way Prather lent a hand to the Eastern Europeans
and thought her example could help in today's fight against racism.
"Sophia Prather saw the future," McCaffrey said. "She said, 'We're
not going to shun these people. We're going to educate them. We're
going to assimilate them.'"
McCaffrey told Manoyan that she liked his book but needed at least
a rough script to pitch a movie to investors, cast and crew. Manoyan
recruited Granite City resident Armand Kachigian, a foot doctor and
aspiring screenwriter willing to work on consignment. He had won
$500,000 on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
"Armand really did a good job," Manoyan said. "And to this day,
his script is serving as an outline for 'Men of Granite.'"
Actors hired to play the basketball players include Rafi Gavron,
26, a Brit known for his work in "Breaking and Entering," "Nick and
Norah's Infinite Playlist" and "Snitch."
The team now is doing prep work with a coach in California, learning
the 1940s-era game and building chemistry.
"They played basketball differently back then," McCaffrey said. "The
key was different. The way that they shot was different. The basketball
was heavier, so the boys had to use two hands."
Excerpt from 'Men of Granite' book cover
"By (Andy) Phillip's senior year, all five starters -- the Hungarian,
two Armenians, a Yugoslav and a Mascedonian -- were products of
"They were an unorthodox and superstitious lot, running plays in
Armenian to confuse opponents among other things, but their steely
resolve and dedication to teamwork made them champions.
"They became the first team in Illinois high school history to suffer
a tournament loss and emerge as the state champions.
"To do that, the Warriors overcame deficits after three quarters in
their quarter-final, semi-final and championship encounters.
"Their hard-knocks background prepared them well to be the
quintessential comeback kids of high school sports. Basketball was
only a game for the Men of Granite, but they played it well."