STEUBENVILLE - The Calvin Jones documentary set to be shown Dec. 29 in the Steubenville High School auditorium is more than a story about a young African-American football star playing in the Canadian Football League,
It is also a story about a man who never knew he had a son.
And finally it is a moving tale of a long separated family reunited.
FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN ON COVER — Calvin Jones was the first African-American athlete to appear on the cover of Sport Illustrated in 1954. - Contributed
The documentary "The Crash" details the life of a young Calvin Jones who played sports at Steubenville High School and then joined his two best friends from high school at the University of Iowa for an outstanding college football career.
Jones, a 1952 graduate of Steubenville High School, was killed in a plane crash on Dec. 9, 1956, over the Canadian Rocky Mountains while playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers following a stellar career at the University of Iowa.
He left behind family members in Steubenville and a 4-month-old son in Houston.
"We had no idea Calvin had a son in Texas. He apparently had a girlfriend while he was at the University of Iowa who got pregnant. She was the daughter of a Methodist minister in Houston, who along with his wife, adopted Edwin Harrison I and raised him as their own son. You know what it was like in the 1950s when a girl got pregnant. It wasn't until he was in the fourth grade when he started questioning why his parents were so much older than his classmates' parents," Patti West related.
"His mother waited until after her parents died 10 years ago to contact Steubenville High School to find any relatives of Calvin Jones. I was involved at the high school and they told her I was Calvin's niece and that's when we first made contact," continued West.
"My mother, Mildred Minnifield, was Calvin's sister," said West.
West assisted Paul Cowan of Infield Fly Productions of Montreal in finding local residents who knew her uncle when he grew up in Steubenville.
"Paul sent me a copy of the film and it was a very emotional and moving experience to watch the documentary. It was a very heart-warming experience, but I had a box of tissues next to me. And I realized it is never too late to connect to family," West noted.
Cowan united Jones' son Edwin Harrison I and his son Edwin "Boomer" Harrison II with their Steubenville relatives when they flew into the Pittsburgh International Airport earlier this year.
"It is neat to see Calvin's grandson following in his grandfather's footsteps and playing in the Canadian Football League. I give all credit to God for allowing us to come together and to meet my cousin and his son," West added.
"This film is unique. It is a look at Calvin Jones the football player and also at his family both in Houston and in Steubenville. It was very moving to see the two families meet face to face for the first time," related Cowan.
"Someone else had the idea for this film. They phoned me and I accepted the assignment. I haven't done a sports film for a number of years, but this has been fun. I have really enjoyed every aspect of this film. This is the kind of story I enjoy," remarked Cowan.
"We also found a gentleman who had filmed the Big Red football games using 16 mm film back in the late 1940s. So we spliced some of that footage together with Boomer looking down at the field from the stands," explained Cowan.
Frank Gilliam, a teammate of Jones at Big Red and Iowa, said he came home to Steubenville for the filming of the game, "because Calvin was my friend."
"He was a big physical, tough guy, a good friend who loved football. He played hard and was an outstanding player. It has been a long time coming for Calvin, but I am glad Calvin is being recognized for who he was," said Gilliam, who played and later worked for the Minnesota Vikings.
Cowan said the movie was shown on the TSN Canadian sports network.
"It was part of a series of eight films that all had something to do with football. It was the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup in Canada and the series and that documentary got good reviews. I was happy with the film. It wasn't an easy story to tell from the filmmaking perspective. But I thought we were successful in being subtle with the message. It was a story about how football brought a family together," explained Cowan.
Jones was elected the University of Iowa team captain his senior year and was awarded the Outland Trophy as the nation's top college lineman.
Jones became the first African-American to be pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, appearing on the front of the Sept. 27, 1954, edition.
According to Cowan, Jones declined offers to play in the National Football League because of lower wages for African-American professional football players and joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL.
Jones quickly made a name for himself in the league and was chosen to play in the Canadian League All-Star game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Dec. 8, 1956, one day before he died.
"I never saw my grandmother smile or laugh after Calvin died. He was her youngest son and she loved him and was so proud of him. She would have loved to meet Calvin's son and his grandson," cited West.
"My mother and grandmother would be so proud. I never dreamed 56 years down the road this would all come about. I get chills when I think how this all came about and two families were united. And Paul Cowan did a fine job making this movie," according to West.
"I picked William Houst to play Calvin during the filming at Harding Stadium because he looks so much like Calvin. The way he walks and plays is just like Calvin looked, and he did a great job," said West.
"We will always be proud of the legacy Calvin left behind. He helped put Steubenville on the map. After the film everyone is invited to the commons area where we will have refreshments and talk about Calvin Jones. Angela Suggs will serve as the emcee. Coach Reno Saccoccia will give his reflections on football, and Dave Patton will give his reflections on basketball. Calvin was a good basketball player as well as a football star. And my uncle, the Rev. Alfred E. Hunt, will give the benediction," West said.
"I will be forever grateful to Calvin's daughter, Sandra, for contacting the high school and then sharing Edwin with us as well as his son," said West.
"This film also tells the story of a young man who persevered. Young people can be successful in life if they work hard and persevere," West noted.
And Cowan had words of thanks and praise for West.
"Every town should have a Patti West. She is a mover and a shaker. We would have made the movie, but Patti made it so much easier and brought us so many local resources, she made it a success," Cowan commented.