Directors Statement by Brian Wollitz
At the beginning of the pandemic, I had the idea to do a feature story on athletes whose futures were in jeopardy because of the countless youth sports cancellations nationwide. With my prior experience as a high school sports reporter, I’ve seen just how important the final season can be for players who are on the brink of getting a shot to continue their athletics and education in college.
When I first met head coach Joe Bates of Skyline’s football team, he talked at length about how important sports are for his community in Oakland, California. Bates emphasized how he uses football as a central tool for youth development and a path for his players to achieve higher education and escape the systemic conditions and potentially violent threats surrounding them with inner-city influences.
Coach Bates explained that because of the pandemic, his team and players were even more adversely affected because of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. To Bates, it was proving to be a great challenge to not only plan for a potential season but to more importantly stay connected with his team and provide mentorship when they weren’t able to be together during the pandemic.
Not long into filming, the entire scope of the project changed as a sudden tragedy hit the team, and illustrated what Bates talked so often about. I was forced to refocus my efforts, but in turn, it provided a deeper and more raw look into the life of Oakland’s communities, families, and the promising athletes they produce.
In all, it was a challenging experience producing, editing, and mostly shooting on my own, but I felt this allowed me to gain trust while creating a less distracting and better relationship with the team over the nine months I was following them.
I want to thank everyone who helped make this film a possibility – especially the 2020-21 Skyline football team and the Pryor family – for allowing me to learn and help share a glimpse of their struggles and successes during the pandemic.