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Local basketball story on the big screen

By KARA KOCZUR, Globe staff reporter
(Email Kara)

ORANGE CITY – Siouxland may not be Hollywood, but it’s still the setting of a local story that’s being projected onto the big screen in “Winning Favor.”

Back in 2005 two teams from Orange City, MOC Floyd Valley and Unity Christian, went on to win state boys basketball championships. Two teams winning from the same town had never been done before in any Iowa community under 100,000 people. Orange City has a population of 6,500.

While that’s where the movie ends, it actually begins years earlier, with a group of neighborhood boys who all dream of winning a state basketball championship when they grow up, but who end up attending different schools.

“As the film unfolds, we will center the story from the friendships that exist between both groups of guys to focusing mainly on the team from MOC Floyd Valley and we’ll see them have to deal with a lot of obstacles along the way as they think they’re working toward their ultimate dream of winning at state,” said Anita Bomgaars, who’s been working with the film from its inception all the way to its marketing. “But honestly in the end, they learn a lot about sacrifice, a lot about what truly is important in life.”

Bomgaars’ own son was one of the neighborhood boys who grew up and went on to play for MOC Floyd Valley.

“The story is based on my memoirs of their years of growing up and how they interacted and how their dreams were challenged,” Bomgaars said.

In 2007 Bomgaars approached Jamey Durham, a professor at Northwestern College who had experience writing screenplays. Between her memoirs and interviews with players from the winning MOC Floyd Valley team, Durham wrote the screenplay for “Winning Favor.” Bomgaars and Durham’s wife, Donna, were co-producers of the film, with Bomgaars’ husband, Dave, serving as the executive producer.

“It was an idea that the Lord would just not let me run away from,” Bomgaars said. “It kept challenging me to do something with this story because it just had elements in it that were important for all parents and coaches and players who have ever been a part of athletics.”

Filming began in the summer of 2008. The group was committed to bringing in professional actors, as well as staying true to its Iowa roots. Thus, while main actors came from California, Canada, the Carolinas and Omaha, including native Iowan Matthew Ashford, who played Jack Deveraux on Days of Our Lives, locals were cast as extras. When it came to the basketball game scenes, teams and fans were brought in from Boyden Hall, Sioux Center, Unity Christian and Bishop Heelan Catholic High School.

Following filming, the rough cut of the film was shown at the International Christian Visual Media convention.

It was there that the group received both positive and negative feedback. A film producer recommended that they hire an independent film editor to make the cuts where they needed to be.

So that’s just what they did. In the end, the main focus of the movie was on the mission statement the MOC Floyd Valley players wrote during the 2004-05 season.

“You will see as the film unfolds how they struggle to stay true to that mission statement and how it becomes the focal point of their commitments throughout the year,” Bomgaars said.

The film also went through color-correction and had an underscore put to it. Bomgaars and the rest of the crew were blessed to have many of the services donated.

“Through the whole process we have truly felt the hands of the Lord on every aspect of it,” she said.

Heelan boys basketball coach, Tom Betz, who plays himself in the movie, said being in the film was a lot of fun and learning experience.

“It was interesting to see how long it took just to shoot the small scenes,” he said. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it and obviously a lot of takes to get a scene right. It was interesting to see how a movie is put together and it was a really neat experience for our kids even though we were the ones that lost.”

MOC Floyd Valley defeated Heelan in the 2005 sub-state finals, which sent them to state. Heelan’s players, coaching staff and fans were invited up to Orange City to recreate the game for the movie.

Although the game happened five years ago, Betz still remembers it.

“We were a very strong free throw shooting team and in the fourth quarter I remember that we shot free throws about four for 12 from the line that game,” he recalled. “The ball just kept bouncing their way. It’s hard to explain, but they seemed like a team of destiny that winter and when the game was on the line, the ball was just not bouncing our way.”

While Betz hasn’t seen the film yet, he said it’s a great story, especially from the aspect of being part of a Catholic school.

“They talk about living the values of Christ in the movie and I think those are very important to all of us,” he said. “I think the positive experience we wanted our guys to [have] by being in the movie was that even though we lost that game, there are still a lot of positives that we took from losing that game and a lot of life experiences.”

Mark and Beth Lawler of Immaculate Conception Church in Sioux City saw the Feb. 19 premiere of the film in Orange City. The Lawlers helped organize the Heelan fans for the movie.

“It is a good Christian, family movie, that has a lot of local flavor,” Mark said.

The overall message he received from the film is that “people can overcome different challenges in life with faith and team.”

“Winning Favor” just finished a two-week run in Orange City and will be at Sioux City’s Promenade Theater for a week starting March 19.

“It’s been really fun because every night we’re getting more and more people,” Bomgaars said of the Orange City showing. “People are excited about it and now that a lot of their own basketball tournament games are finished, they’re really wanting to see it.”

As of now, there aren’t plans to show the film at other locations. One reason is that theaters need a high-definition projector to show the movie, Bomgaars said, and another is that the Siouxland showings are more like a “sneak peek.”

“Our desire is that some distribution company will love the idea, love the story, and approach us and more than likely purchase it from us and develop it nationally,” she said.

More info about the movie can be found at www.winningfavor.com.

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