Do you have an idea bank? A file or notebook full of articles and ideas that you’d like to explore and develop further? I have several notebooks and one of them I stumbled upon yesterday happens to tie in directly with the last couple posts on Youngstown, Ohio.
It was an article on a guy named Reece. He’s an Ohio legend. He rushed for over 4,000 yards and scored 52 touchdowns playing high school football. His senior year he was named Ohio’s Mr. Football and USA Today’s national offensive player of the year.
He received a scholarship to Ohio St. University where he helped the team to an undefeated season and scored the winning touchdown in a national championship game to give Ohio State its first title in 35 years.
Reece gave a little pride to a part of the Rust Belt that has struggled for years. According to Nancy Armour in an AP article back in ’06 Reece, “grew up in gritty Youngstown, in a neighborhood on the hard and unforgiving south side. The steel mills and factories that once provided jobs for generations of families are long gone, and little good has replaced them.”
The area sounded like a lot of inner cities in the United States. By the time Reece graduated from high school he had already been to 10 funerals of his classmates. There are reports that he avoid the gangs, didn’t go to parties, and didn’t drink or do drugs. He had a gift and he was protecting it from the elements of the streets.
But Reece had no sooner finished celebrating being part of a national championship team when he fell off the mountaintop. Reece dreamed of playing in the NFL and at one time it looked like a sure bet, but as of this writing he sits in a prison in Ohio for a string of crimes.
It’s a familiar story. From King David, to Macbeth, to Bernie Madoff the story looks the same. The rise and fall of the powerful never fails to grab our imaginations.
If the name Reece doesn’t ring a bell maybe his given name does—Maurice Clarett.
The best thing about Clarett’s story is he’s still young. He’s working on his college degree in prison. He’s only 26 so the story hasn’t ended yet. I’m pulling for him because I love stories of redemption. When I look at my favorite films the majority have redemptive themes.
In fact, Clarett is imprisoned in Toledo, Ohio just about 100 miles away from the Mansfield, Ohio prison used in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. “Hope is a dangerous thing.”
And I also have a sentimental tie-in to Clarett in that my mom and dad met at Ohio State, and I have an uncle who played football there back in the day. I grew up watching Woody Hayes coached teams. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Youngstown because it’s where my father grew-up.
I want to see some films set in Youngstown. From the historic rise of the steel mills to their bitter closing, to the rebuilding process and the thriving arts community, there are stories to be told from there. Any town that’s lived through an unemployment rate of almost 25% has learned lessons that could help the rest of America at this time.
Any town that has had the influence of English, German, Irish, Scottish, Welch, Polish, Italian, Hungarians, etc. has to have some gripping stories. I’ve read that Youngstown was called the “melting pot that never melted,” and that it was common for steel mills to be divided into ethnic groups. There are stories to tell.
Youngstown is a fascinating town that at one time or another was known for pawnshops, a mafia presence, and a breeding ground for some of the greatest coaches in college football. (Florida’s Urban Myers, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, and OSU’s Jim Tressel are just a few from in and around the area.) It’s an area surrounded by beautiful gentle rolling hills that at one time in the 90s was called the “murder capital of America” with the highest per capita rate in the country.
Conflict is one of the main ingredients of drama and Youngstown is no stranger to conflict.
My grandfather earned a Zippo lighter for spending 30 years working at Youngstown Sheet and Tube before he died of a heart attack. I’m sure there are a lot of Zippo lighters floating around Youngstown. What I’ve never seen is a movie that captures that era.
So the time is ripe for a son of a son of a steelworker (or a daughter) to rise up and write some screenplays and make some documentaries on the area. Watch Gran Tornio (about Michigan in transition) and Country (about the farm crisis here in Iowa in the 80s) and start adding notes into your idea bank.
That’s what regional screenwriting is all about and there is still some magic to tap into down by Yellow Creek…there in Youngstown.
By the way, if you’d like to write Maurice Clarett the address I found online is:
Maurice Clarett 529-720
2001 E. Central Ave.
Toledo, OH 43608
He’s also a fellow WordPress blogger whose account from prison is called The Mind of Maurice Clarett (though it’s been a few months since his last post). Reece, I hope you write your own story and that it has a happy ending.
Scott W. Smith
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