|Prof Blood And The Wonder Teams|
GENRE: Sports Story.
STATUS: A screenplay for a feature film and a script for a documentary have been written by Eric Nemoto and Dr. Charles “Chic” Hess. The screenplay treatment follows on this page. The documentary has been given the green light for filming. An update is provided after the treatment.
LOGLINE: Based on the book of the same name as written by Dr. Charles “Chic” Hess, this is the true story of Ernest Blood, basketball’s first great coach, whose Passaic high school team in New Jersey once won 159 consecutive games, a record that still stands today.
COMPANY NOTES: YBS has worked with author Dr. Charles “Chic” Hess to write a script, Prof Blood And The Wonders Teams, in pursuit of making a movie based on his book of the same name. Hess’ book, Prof Blood And The Wonder Teams is a well researched and incredibly detailed and fascinating account of the life of Ernest Blood, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, whose coaching exploits remain both legendary and yet largely unknown to even some of the most ardent sports enthusiasts. Hess is an expert in basketball. He has an extensive basketball resume that qualifies him to be a coaching legend himself. He amassed 230 victories in twelve seasons at three high schools in Pennsylvania with 158 of those wins coming during his eight seasons at Lebanon High School, where he is inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He later became head coach at Brigham Young University – Hawaii, winning NAIA District 29 Coach of the Year honors in 1989. In 1991, he was named Junior College Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches after a successful season at Arizona Western College. Prof Blood And The Wonder Teams can be purchased by clicking here.
“Chic Hess has not only done Professor Ernest Blood a fine service, he has told a story that basketball people needed to know.”
P.J. Carlisimo, college and professional basketball coach and TV analyst
One Of His Most Successful Seasons – Chic Hess At Arizona Western College, 1991
It is 1949. St. Benedict’s High School is playing Bordentown Military. During a time out, St. Benedict’s coach, 77-year-old Ernest Blood (photo right), who is referred to as “Prof,” is seen sound asleep on the bench. The players, all in a quandary, turn to the time keeper, Coach Kasberger, for guidance. Kasberger asks the boys what would Prof tell them to do. To a player, they all respond, “Lock it down!” They turn and run back onto the court. The camera follows the boys back to the game but then returns to the sight of the sleeping coach who we know there is so much more to learn about.
As this scene dissolves to the present we hear the voice of Dr. Charles “Chic” Hess, 70s, a noted high school and college basketball coach in his own right. He mentions how he can picture the moment as if he were in the stands himself, and comments how today such a moment would turn into a viral video. But back during the career of Prof Blood, so much respect was given to the man that the players didn’t want to wake him for fear of embarrassing him. We follow the car that Chic is driving as he enters the city of Passaic, New Jersey, and then onto the grounds of Passaic High School and Lincoln Middle School (photo right) where he meets the principal in order to gain access to the empty school cafeteria. We next see him visiting the cafeteria which is his personal Mecca. We learn through his narration that he first heard of Prof Blood as a player himself in Philadelphia and was fascinated by a winning streak, 159 games, that the teams of Prof went on to establish. Chic tells us that when his own playing days were over, he continued as a coach, which served to keep him close to the game he loved, and upon subsequently going for his doctorate degree, found that there was no real history of Prof’s accomplishments.
In that moment, Chic advises us, he knew that this (an account of Prof’s accomplishments) would one day change. We get a closeup of the book he went on to write, “Prof Blood And The Wonder Teams,” and see that he is the author. We then go back in time to begin the story of Ernest “Prof” Blood and his amazing Wonder Teams.
It is July 26, 1915, and the principal of Passaic’s high school, Arthur Arnold, is receiving yet another award for his contributions to the youth of Passaic. Among those in attendance is Passaic school superintendent, Fred Shepherd. At the end of the event, Shepherd tells Arnold that he has gotten him a physical training teacher (a vintage physical education book is at right) because classes in this subject matter will soon become the law. Arnold scoffs at the very thought. He would rather have a teacher in math, science, or language.
In the Adironback Mountains, the Blood family – Ernest “Prof,” 43, wife Margaret, 41, daughter Ernestine, 13, son, Paul, 12, and Ernest Jr., affectionately called Ben, 3 – travel in the family Model T (photo left) and enter Passaic, New Jersey. They pull over to a store to put in gasoline and Prof, a stout and muscular man, notices a couple of young bullies harassing a younger, skinny Jewish boy, Ira Vonk. He goes over to break it up and draws the ire of the fathers of the bullies. They team up against Prof but find that they are no match as soon they are lying in the street unconscious. Rabbi Schwartz reflects the sentiments of the crowd and wonders who is this man he has never seen before. Prof introduces himself and says that he and his family are moving into Passaic. As Prof walks back to his family and the Model T, Rabbi Schwartz shouts, “Passaic welcomes you Mr. Blood!” The Bloods look around their new house, with little Ben carried in his mother’s arms. Ernest is an educator and more specifically the new physical training teacher that Arnold and Shepherd were talking about. He is also a coach of a new sport called, “basketball,” and goes by his nickname of “Prof,” which his players over the years have come to call him in reverence to his being a “professor” in their eyes. Margaret is his dutiful and devoted wife who will follow him to the ends of the earth but who also wishes he’d stay at home every once in a while. As the kids excitedly explore the back yard, Ernest tells Margaret that he has a good feeling about this new city, Passaic. Margaret agrees and tells him it feels like home already. The kids tell their father that they spotted a squirrel and a raccoon. Margaret smiles, “Don’t get your father started.” Prof, a lover of animals with a penchant for keeping exotic pets, laughs.
The next morning, Ernest reports to his first day at his new job, as a teacher at Passaic High School (photo right circa 1920s). He walks through the school grounds amidst the idolatry looks and comments of the students who have all heard of his exploits at the store. He attends the new teacher orientation and meets Rosalie Krueger, who will also be teaching physical training and coaching girls basketball. Vice principal Daniel Dahl handles the orientation and after it is done, Arnold asks Prof to meet with him in private. He tells Prof that he had nothing to do with his hiring, that he has a budget of a thousand dollars which is largely to be used for new playground equipment. Arnold makes it clear that he has no interest in physical training and doesn’t want to be bothered with it. So Prof is to handle everything, including the selection of a new coach for the basketball team. Prof tells Arnold he’ll handle it. At the family dinner table at night, Prof tells his family that he will appoint himself as coach and that Paul can have a baby alligator that his new friend wants to give to him.
We see Prof conducting his physical education classes as Chic provides the narration, describing how Prof was a physical specimen capable of throwing up a 16 pound shot put and catching it on the back of his neck, who emphasized, “Mens sana in corpore sano;” Latin for, “A sound mind in a sound body.” Prior to his first basketball practice Prof’s reputation precedes him. Having already coached at Potsdam Normal School (first photo left) and Clarkson University (second photo left), the word is that he’s won over 400 games and has lost just a handful. His arriving players express doubt about this however and pass it off as a tall tale until they arrive at the gym and are treated to a sight they can hardly believe. The coach, Prof, proceeds to sink over two hundred consecutive free throws. He then proceeds to instill in everybody the beginnings of his philosophy on how to play the game – pass rather than dribble, team and not the individual. He runs the team through grueling practice sessions and everyone realizes that there is a new sheriff in town. He has the players participate in “Guts Muths’ Challenge,” where they stand upon a beam that is placed atop cement blocks stacked to about four feet high, and are then instructed to arrange themselves in alphabetical order without falling off, and if they do they are to help each other up and continue. He tells an observing Rosalie that this activity serves to identify who his captains will be because the process will produce certain students who will take the lead and instruct others what to do. Rosalie advises Prof that she’ll be joining him on the athletic council and they talk about Arnold and the fact that many don’t like him. Rosalie explains it’s largely because everyone believes he is in the pocket of Dow Drukker, Sr., a former New Jersey congressman, who owns the largest construction company in town as well as the Passaic Daily Herald. In other words he’s big stuff in Passaic, and as a big supporter of the school, he always has Arnold’s ear.
As the first game approaches Prof and Margaret take a night stroll on Main Street. They pass a poster about traveling to Bermuda (photo right). Margaret tells Prof how it would be great if they could take some time off to vacation there. Prof responds incredulously, citing all of his responsibilities. The next day a paperboy shouts the headlines, none of which has anything to do with the upcoming opening game. In the afternoon, Katherine Loveless, Arnold’s secretary, leaves the office and asks whether Arnold will be attending the game. Arnold scoffs at Katherine’s excitement over a mere game. Prof’s debut draws a sparse crowd of die hard fans including Rabbi Schwartz, Katherine, and John and Rita Schroeder. It is also attended by Drukker, who meets with Prof and tells him his son, Dow Jr., will be one of his players in the next year. He also tells Prof that winning is all that matters, and that if he doesn’t the empty seats will get emptier. Dow says to Prof as he leaves to get a seat, “Winning is all that really matters.” Prof mutters to himself, “Nice folks they got around here,” and turns his attention to the game. “We are an offensive team,” Prof shouts, and sends his team to center court. The Passaic boys execute Prof’s game strategy perfectly and come through big time. The final, Passaic 83 and Harrison 10, leaves the crowd amazed and excited as they leave the gym. Even skeptic Dow tips his hat to Prof in admiration. Rabbi Schartz, Katherine, John, and Rita, are thrilled. They haven’t seen as good a team… ever. Leaving his office at night, Arnold turns his head to pick up the shouts of glee emanating from the gym in the distance. He frowns and shuts off his office lights.
We get a series of shots as Chic narrates how the difference between the new Passaic basketball team and the teams of the past was like night and day as we get a series of shots of Passaic’s victories and their scores that are superimposed on the screen: Passaic 72, Kearny 39; Passaic 34, Paterson 25; Passaic 39, South Orange 17; Passaic 67, Nutley 12; Passaic 71, Leonia 10. In the hub of all things Passaic, Emil’s Barber Shop, gambler Salvatore Salvatico, accepts the bet of a patron who says the team can’t go undefeated. Amazed, other patrons realize that the Passaic boys may be for real as Salvatore explains he’s taking the bet because he’s never seen the kind of basketball that the boys are playing ever played before. Convinced, the patron smiles and withdraws his bet; citing the fact that he would have been betting against what he wanted. The Passaic team continues to win and win big so much that during an athletic council meeting Arnold tells Prof that he’s getting complaints from other schools that he’s winning by too much of a margin. Elmer Watson, coach of the baseball team, smiles and reacts that no one can expect Prof’s boys to let up. Arnold is not amused by the coaches rolling their eyes at the thought that Prof should pull the reins on his team. He adjourns the meeting. This is followed by a photo montage of Passaic’s continuing victories, culminating in an undefeated season of 20 and 0, and the unofficial declaration of state champions. Chic’s narration tells us that the entire community of Passaic was looking forward to the next season. Well, almost everyone.
But in spite of all this success, Arnold later asks Prof to step down as basketball coach, a move he says is necessary since a teacher who teaches the lower physical education courses is called up by the military for war. He needs Prof to not only teach the advanced physical education courses but in fact all of them. But of course this means relieving him of some of his other duties in order that he can handle the added load. Another teacher, Ralph Guillow, who knows nothing about basketball, is appointed the new coach. Prof disagrees, citing the fact that Guillow doesn’t know a thing about coaching. Rosalie and Elmer also voice their opposition to the plan, but Arnold is set in his ways. He does this because the growing popularity of basketball has been drawing attention away from the school as a whole, and therefore from him. Though he disagrees, Prof obviously accepts his new role, though he is very disappointed. But during a drive home he notices that young boys are beginning to play basketball in their yards. He smiles at the progress he’s created. At home, Prof laments about his situation to Margaret. Margaret tells him that if Arnold wants him to bring physical training to the community – really an assignment to get him away from the basketball team – then he should do so vigorously and in so doing start looking for the players he’ll need for when he’s coach again, since in her opinion, it’ll be no time at all when Prof is back in the saddle given Guillow won’t be able to handle coaching the team. Prof sees the logic in this.
The newspaper boy shouts out his headlines and one of them is the fact that Passaic has changed basketball coaches. Word spreads through the town and everyone knows the reason, a principal with an ego can’t stand not being in the lime light. At Emil’s, the regulars lament how just when they’ve finally got a great basketball team, the man responsible for it is “reassigned.” Salvatore gives odds that Prof will be back before the end of the season, explaining that once a community gets a whiff of winning it really can’t go back. A photo montage follows along with Chic’s narration that chronicles Prof’s active campaign to promote physical training in the community and in so doing he meets many of the community’s leaders, including John Saunders of the Kiwanis Club, and his son Hal, Abe Greenberg of the YMHA, Joe Whalley of the Passaic Boys Club, and the Passaic YMCA physical director, Brill Bratton. We learn that by making these contacts, Prof was putting a system in place for spotting and developing talent in preparation for his true love – coaching basketball. He could keep an eye out for players that one day could play for him at the high school level. Chic explains that Prof started doing this when he first coached at the Somerville YMCA back in the early 1900s, which was years before Branch Rickey – considered the founder of the sports farm system and who would go on to break the color barrier with the signing of Jackie Robinson – ever developed it for major league baseball.
A series of shots show that Ralph is totally inept as a coach. In a game, the opposing players are scoring easily and on the bench, Guillow sits clueless. In the stands Rosalie, Elmer, John and Rita react in disgust. Arnold has a meeting with Prof and asks why is he getting these complaint letters and admonishes him to do something about it. Prof agrees that he will. At Emil’s, Katherine pops her head in to tell everyone that Prof is back as coach! We get a series of shots of Prof coaching and learn through Chic’s narration that after Passaic lost its first two games during the 1916-17 season, Prof came in and the team went undefeated for the next 10 games. But this just brought back the ire of Arnold who found yet another coach, a Coach Ozmun, to take over for the the 1917-18 season. Disappointed in being relieved of his coaching duties again, Prof returns to focusing on promoting physical training in the community and keeping an eye out for future players. But after the season, the players, parents, and fans have had enough. The players visit Prof at his house to tell him that they all visited Arnold to demand his reinstatement, along with their parents and members of the community. Prof is told that even town big shot Dow Sr. was part of the lobbying effort. “Drukker too? Why?” Prof asks. He’s told that Drukker wants his son to play for a great team. “Great team ay?” Prof says, “Well what are we waiting for?”
Rosalie and Elmer enthusiastically welcome Prof back. Rosalie mentions that she learned absolutely nothing from Coach Ozmun and that his players disrespected him. Prof responds by saying that should never happen. Players should respect their coach no matter who he is. Elmer mentions that his team still hasn’t had any new equipment. Prof says he’ll handle it. Elmer also tells Prof that Johnny Roosma, a very good athlete who left school to play professional sports had re-enrolled. Prof thinks of the possibilities. At home the Bloods have dinner and Margaret reacts with disgust at the news that Prof will be meeting with Drukker and assumes that the reason he is arranging such is that he wants his son to play for Prof. Prof suggests that it may be worth meeting with him seeing as how Drukker wields a lot of influence with Arnold. Margaret is adamant. She says if Prof ever considers playing Drukker’s son just because he can do him a favor then he’s not the man she thinks he is. Prof eventually assures everyone that if Dow Jr. makes the team it’s because he deserves it. Prof meets Drukker at a restaurant. Also in attendance are a number of Drukker’s associates, including George Sparrow, Sam Horton, Niles Stevens, and Robert Benson, who is also the chair of the Passaic Board of Education. Drukker lays down the plan. He’ll provide Prof with $2000 in added funds he can use for his athletic program if he’ll assure that his son makes the team. Prof turns it down, telling Drukker that his son will have to make it on his own. Prof leaves to the chagrin of Drukker, who is not accustomed to not getting his way, especially in front of his associates who all tend to follow what he says to do.
Practices for the 1918-19 season begins and Prof meets Johnny Roosma who has returned to Passaic to finish his education, and tells him that once attained, education is something that cannot be taken away from him. Johnny agrees. Prof proceeds to hold an intense practice in which Dow Drukker Jr. arrives late due to having to attend a student council meeting. Prof culminates practice with a task he calls, “Crossing the Passaic River.” He points to four car tires, three 8-foot long 2x4s, and two long ropes at the end of the court, and instructs them that they must travel from one end of the gym, the land, to the other end without touching the floor, which serves as the river. “Get started,” he says. And it is Johnny who starts telling everyone what to do. Prof winks at Hal, who is watching, for he has found his leader. We then get a montage of the season, which depicts Passaic’s continuing winning ways, and the scores are posted on screen for us to follow: Passaic 80, North Plainfield 34; Passaic 37, Montclair 26; Passaic 69, Leonia 6; Passaic 58, Hackensack 18; Passaic 37, Englewood 23; Passaic 53, Cliffside 1; Passaic 79, Camp Merritt 28; Passaic 60, Ridgewood 29. We cut back to a game and Drukker is not happy in the seats. His son, Dow Jr., has not seen much playing time. Drukker subsequently meets with Arnold and demands that he handle things with Prof to see that his son gets to play. Arnold tells him he will handle it. At another athletic council meeting Arnold tries to convince Prof to play Dow Jr. more, citing his high academic record. But Prof retorts that Dow Jr.’s preoccupation with his student council has reduced his practice time and so too his playing time. Despite Arnold’s strong recommendations, Prof aloofly explains on the reasons why he plays Dow Jr. the way he does. Frustrated, Arnold tells Prof that he is to contact a Walter Short, secretary of the new Interscholastic Athletic Association about a playoff system, admonishing Prof that athletics is supposed to be his business. At the close of the meeting Elmer and Rosalie laughingly tell Prof that Arnold’s face got so red that they thought it would burst. At another game, Dow Jr. doesn’t play well and is substituted, much to the dismay of his father in the stands. Another montage ensues and we see game action depicting Passaic playing its opponents as the following scores appear on screen: Passaic 63, Leonia 9; Passaic 74, Kearny 28; Passaic 54, Emerson 33; Passaic 41, Hackensack 12; Passaic 37, Englewood 20; Passaic 55, Rutherford 11; Passaic 40, Cliffside 14; Passaic 55, Ridgewood 11. We return to another game where Dow Jr. has not played enough. Drukker comes down from the stands at the end of the game and confronts Prof, demanding that he play his son, and shouting that he can’t continue to ignore him. “He was our congressman?” Hal asks rhetorically, “What a jerk.” Drukker has another meeting with Arnold and chastises him, asking him who runs the school, he or Blood? “I should’ve gone to see Benson!” Drukker snarls and leaves, slamming the door behind him, and leaving Arnold at a loss for words.
As instructed by Arnold, Prof has a phone call with Walter Short. Short tells him that Passaic plays right after Trenton and Union Hill play. Prof acknowledges this and asks Short whether the association will help pay for Passaic’s traveling expenses. To Short, a kind of little Napoleon, the question is an insult, for no one questions his decisions. He retorts that it is each school’s responsibility and that Prof should consider it an honor to be representing Passaic. Prof asks about the referee and umpire and suggests he could recommend a couple good ones. Short tells Prof that’s none of his concern. As they hang up Short tells those around him, “Who the HELL is this guy?! Nobody questions the Athletic Association’s procedures. It’s worked for everybody ever since I’ve run this association!” Prof gets to meet Short himself when they arrive for their game at Rutgers College at six and find that it has been moved to seven. They subsequently play their opponent, Atlantic City, and win, 47 to 24. But their later start time makes them miss the 9 o’clock train back to Passaic and have to wait for the 11 pm train. The late train ride home throws the entire team’s schedule out of whack. In the final of the first ever New Jersey state championships, Prof’s team is tired and out of sync and they end up losing the championship to Union Hill and Prof has his first defeat ever as a Passaic coach. Drukker comes down from the stands to tell Prof that his days are over. On the drive back to Passaic, Whalley tells Prof that he’s done a lot for the community, given the number of new basketball hoops that now adorn garages and telephone poles. It brings a smile to Prof’s face.
At his luncheon meeting with Arnold, Shepherd, and Benson, Drukker sets his newspaper with its headline, “Failure To Manage End Game Costs Passaic A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity,” and subtitle, “Dow Drukker Jr. Inserted Too Late,” down to the side and through their discussion we learn that Drukker has arranged for another coach to replace Prof. Arnold complains that he will take the brunt of criticism again for relieving Prof of his duties. Drukker disagrees, saying that most of the players are coming back and anyone coaching the team will be a winner, thus relegating the Prof legend to a myth. Arnold is not convinced. Benson tells Arnold he should stop whining like a petulant child and just do as Drukker says and be done with it. Arnold gripes that Benson would be singing a different tune if it was his neck on the chopping block with the public. On the street corner, the newspaper boy shouts the new headlines and among them he shouts that Prof is out as coach again.
At another athletic council meeting, Arnold reiterates what everyone already knows, yet another new teacher, Amasa Marks, will be taking over the coaching duties of the Passaic basketball team. In addition, he announces that all of athletics has to become self-sufficient. Gate receipts will have to cover the team’s expenses. After the meeting, Prof meets Karl Helfrich, who will serve as the team scheduler. Prof learns from Karl that Arnold has already requested that he schedule a game at Montclair as a favor to the school’s principal who is a friend of Arnold. Prof, forced to act in desperation for he’s just been informed that he has no budget for the year, gains inspiration from Arnold’s behavior. He tells Karl that any additional away games he schedules must come with a fee that other schools must pay. In an effort to raise his own funds, after giving a speech to the Kiwanis Club about his team, Prof is asked how the club could help out. Prof says, “Now that you mention that.” Later in the week, Elmer finds that he has received a box of new baseball gloves. Arnold reads a letter addressed to him from an organization that says they are appalled that the basketball team has no budget and in so doing is providing a contribution. Arnold fumes, “How dare he goes out in public to share internal information!” Daniel responds, “Well, you did tell him he needed to raise his own funds.” Arnold throws the letter upon other open letters. At the Blood house at night Prof and Margaret look out into the night. Margaret mentions that now that Prof will be around more maybe they might be able to take a trip to Bermuda. Prof is oblivious, his mind elsewhere. Margaret is disappointed. She gets up and says, “Well I better start dinner. Think your critters are hungry too.”
Amasa pays an unexpected visit to Prof. Margaret greets him at the door. When he says he’d like to see Prof, Margaret utters, “Yes, me too. Come in Mr. Marks.” Amasa finds Prof in his basement which he has converted into a literal menagerie of pets, including raccoons, turtles, snakes, and skunks. Amasa explains that Arnold has said he could appoint his own assistant coach, so why not ask Prof to be it? While Prof can’t figure him out, Amasa lays it on the line. He needs to coach because he needs the teaching job. But everybody knows he can’t carry Prof’s spit bucket in coaching, so why not ask Prof to be his assistant coach? That way everybody knows Prof will still be the real coach and Amasa will keep Arnold at bay. Amasa explains that even though Arnold won’t like it, he’ll get over it. For he’ll still be able to say that Amasa is the real coach, but the community will know that Prof is. Prof sizes up the amicable Amasa. “Coach Marks,” Prof says, “You hungry? We’re having raccoon.” The men laugh.
We get a montage of Passaic playing games along with newspaper headlines while Chic returns to narrating and we learn that on December 19, 1919, while no one knew it at the time, Passaic would start something truly remarkable – the beginning of their legendary winning streak. It wasn’t just that they won. It was how they won. Playing like a mobile, agile, passing and shooting machine that played the game hard, but also fair. Prof wouldn’t have it any other way. We return to another game where the referees are obviously not giving Passaic a fair shake on the calls. Chic narrates that the 1918-19 team was one of the best that Prof ever produced but that it wouldn’t be complete without winning the state championship. We then see the rematch between Passaic and Union Hill for the Northern New Jersey championship. In scenes that transition between the action on the court and the Passaic Daily News Building where updated scores are written onto a board that is displayed in the office window for the community who are gathered around to see. Passaic wins 30 to 22. In his office later, Short schedules the games so that Passaic’s attempt at their first title will be as hard as it gets. Passaic then plays Asbury Park. Before the game Prof talks with Short and sarcastically asks if Short could assure that the games start on time so they don’t miss their train. He also tells Short that he notices none of the referees he suggested seem to be present. Short tells Prof to just worry about playing the game and leave the logistics to him. Prof retorts that this is what worries him. Short fumes. As they play, Prof and his players must deal with the glare of a bright sun in their eyes. Prof tells his players to play the game. At halftime, Asbury Park is up 19 to 18 as Passaic has had to deal with the glaring sun and the fact that the referees have turned a blind eye to Asbury Park’s roughhouse play. But Prof tells them now it’s their time, to “Lock it down!” He makes some critical substitutions and Passaic comes back to win 45 to 20. The community outside of the Passaic Daily News Building cheer. After the game Prof urges his players to dress quickly for they need to catch the train back to Passaic, which they do. As they leave, Hal wonders what Walter Short will have up his sleeve the next night. Prof says, “I’m sure he’ll think of something.” The following night, the night of the state finals, Passaic finds that their dressing room has a large piece of glass missing from the window, causing the place to feel like a freezer. On the court Trenton takes a halftime lead of 19 to 18. At the half Prof tells his players, “The Trenton boys are bigger and heavier than you. But that’s what’s going to be their demise! As we did all year boys! Pass the ball. Quick passing! Don’t let’em even catch their breath! When they wear down, we attack!” The Passaic boys go out and outplay Trenton and end up winning the championship, 33 to 26. Fans mob the court and everyone back at Passaic erupts in joy as the score is posted. Prof approaches Short at the end of the game and tells him that the locker room is cold as hell. “Cold as hell you say?” Short replies, “Maybe that’s where you should go.” Prof warns Short that the game should be played on the court and not to let it happen again. We get a photo montage of the celebration back in Passaic as Chic narrates that Prof and his team had achieved the ultimate, New Jersey State Champions! But with this coronation, now everyone would be gunning for them.
We next see Passaic in a game with Eastside where it is obvious their opponents are playing extremely rough. At halftime, the Passaic players are slamming lockers in anger. Prof tells his players not to retaliate else the one sided refereeing will see them tossed out. In the second half, players Ira Vonk and Johnny Roosma do retaliate and it leaves two Eastside players out cold. While they are ejected, Passaic wins their 30th consecutive game. Both players apologize to Prof for fighting back, but Prof smiles and says, “I understand.” A photo montage follows where Chic describes how Johnny and Ira formed the soul of a 1920-21 team that again went undefeated and won the state championship, extending the streak to 54 games. He describes how two other players blossomed and contributed, Fritz Knoethe and Bobby Thompson. Chic narrates how by 1921 everyone was saying that Passaic was not only the best team in New Jersey but in the entire nation. Of course, this success also brought a lot of hatred and jealousy, particularly from Arnold who could not stand how basketball detracted from what he did for the school, Short, who could not stand how Prof would not agree to show for any away games if he wasn’t given a cut of the gate, Drukker, who would be Prof’s eternal enemy for not playing his son, and Robert Benson, who while not having any direct contact with Prof, still didn’t care for the number of complaints he received from the rest of these community leaders.
Arnold walks the halls of the school and to his ire he eavesdrops on a teacher and sees her giving a mathematical problem to her class by giving examples of Bobby Thompson scoring in games and what would his scoring average be. In Passaic’s 57th game at Potsdam, after Prof and Hal talk about how Bobby Thompson is the best shooter anywhere, a representative of the community invites Prof to stay awhile after the game as they want to thank him for bringing his state champion team to play. Later, Prof and Paul are arriving late back home with Prof carrying something “moving” in a bundle of blankets. He hides to the side of the house as Paul greets Margaret, who opens the door and turns on the front porch light. Paul explains that Prof is still getting a walk and precedes him into the house with the plan of going into the basement to let Prof sneak in with whatever he has. Paul does open the door but when Prof enters he finds a stern Margaret. Prof reveals what he’s holding. It’s a bear cub. Margaret has daggers in her eyes. She reads the riot act to Prof. But after Prof explains that the cub was a gift from Potsdam and it was given because its mother had been shot by hunters, Margaret gives in to her own sentiments. “Oh well,” she asks, “What shall we call him then?” Without hesitation, Ben cries out. “Zep!” We get a montage of scenes depicting Zep becoming the mascot and symbol of the powerful Passaic team. He begins as a fuzzy, cuddly, cute little thing that is adorable and is led on a chain by Paul. But as the victories continue to mount, Zep starts to grow bigger until he wrestles both Paul and Prof and tosses both of them around. Passaic wins its third consecutive state championship. The streak is now at 88 games in a row and Passaic is now referred to as the “Wonder Team.”
With two additional testimonial games, Passaic’s best player, Bobby Thompson, has a crack at being the first high school player to score 1,000 points in a season. In the very last game of the season, with time running down, the conversation on the coaching bench and in the stands is that Bobby is such a team player that he won’t shoot unless he’s totally open, and that Reading is collapsing on him for they don’t want to be the team that gives up the 1,000th point. While his teammates tell him don’t worry as the game is won and implore him to work for his shot, Bobby says, “I will if I’m open! Open man always takes the shot!” The team looks to Prof to convince his own player to go against his own philosophy. In a heightened moment Bobby turns to his mentor. “Coach? You want me to just shoot?” Prof smiles and relents, “Come out shooting, like you were Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral!” Amasa, Hal, and the rest of the team cheer. Bobby and his teammates return to the court and in the final minutes, Bobby dramatically scores eight final points despite being double and triple teamed and Reading playing keep away. His final shot goes in at the buzzer. The crowd goes wild. Bobby is mobbed by his teammates. He becomes forever known as “1,000 Point Bobby Thompson.” A photo montage ensues and Chic narrates how Bobby’s 1,000 points in a single season would be immortalized in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,” (image left) and how Passaic’s winning streak increased to 113 games even with star Fritz Knoethe being injured. With Fritz’ shoulder injury and the absence of another star player, Passaic continuing its winning streak was in doubt. We return to game action as Passaic, with Fritz watching from the stands, is totally out of sync as it plays Montclair and is behind at halftime, losing 12 to 8. But as Prof is calmly giving instructions to the team, Fritz appears and tells another player to give him his jersey and says, “I’m playing.” With his injured shoulder bandaged, Fritz literally plays one handed and leads the team back in the second half to propel Passaic to a 31 to 20 victory. As we watch the corner newspaper boy shout out the news headlines, Chic narrates that Fritz’ legendary comeback against Montclair became Passaic’s most inspirational game ever.
At a Board of Education committee meeting that is considering the prospect of Passaic playing a testimonial game against a worthy New York team on the invite of the then New York’s acting mayor, tempers flare when members accuse Prof of gaining financially from these additional games since opposing teams are willing to pay an appearance fee for the privilege of playing Passaic’s “Wonder Team.” Prof contends that whatever he gets doesn’t nearly make up for all the years he has used his own money to help finance the basketball program. He declares that while he never sought any measure of appreciation from his own school nor from the Board, he won’t tolerate any disrespect. When Robert Benson, a direct man himself, tells Prof to sit down and shut up, it finally causes the volcano that has been building within Prof to explode. He stares down Benson and tells him no man can tell him to shut up, and Benson has to swallow his spit and back down. Prof leaves in a huff, and the committee is mortified to learn that members of the community as well as the press, were waiting outside in the hall for the regular meeting to start and all of what transpired during the meeting was readily heard by all. This, the battle between Prof and the Board, will become the talk of the town for years to follow. Citing the surface reason that having young men play too many games is not good for their health and takes them away from their academics, the Board votes to end all further testimonial games. However worded, everyone knows this is done to shut Prof down. But the community rallies behind Prof. At town meetings people suggest donating to up his salary. Prof becomes a “cause” among the community who know that he is merely not supported due to a Board and school administration that cannot accept his success. Prof addresses a large audience and tells them that he has only acted in the best interests of his boys. And while he never expected any appreciation from Arnold or the Board, and in fact had never received any, he cannot tolerate disrespect. He asks the crowd of over 1,500 whether anyone present could ever recall a time when he didn’t act in the best interest of any player they knew. The response draws silence. Prof nods. The auditorium shakes with raucous applause.
In the next New Jersey State Finals, Amasa notices that a particular referee will be calling the game. “I thought you said Walter Short assured you that Phillip Lewis wouldn’t referee.” Prof looks to see Lewis talking with the other referee. Prof then turns to search out Short in the stands. He returns a disdainful look. As the game is played it is very apparent that Lewis is calling the game in favor of the opposing team. During halftime Prof tells Amasa to take the team in. Prof finds Short and pulls him around the building and puts the pressure on him to promise that Lewis will call a fair game. Lewis subsequently does and a series of shots ensues which shows Passaic winning its fourth consecutive state championship. Another photo montage follows with Chic narrating that depicts Prof’s growing fame, his continuing battle with all of the powers that be, and Margaret feeling sad given Prof’s attention is completely on his team and his battle against his enemies. Not wanting to follow anymore what the league tells him to do, he refuses to play in the state championships and opts to play games with tougher opponents in private games in which Passaic is paid an appearance fee. While they are not officially crowned as state champions because they did not enter the tournament, Chic narrates that everyone still considered the undefeated Passaic Wonder Team as the true champions. Back at Drukker’s luncheon meeting, there is discord between Arnold and Drukker, and Arnold and Benson. Arnold feels like he’s always taking the brunt of the community’s wrath because of the others, while Drukker and Benson blames the entire situation on Arnold being egotistical and not treating Prof with more respect. But Drukker states that things have a way of coming around. The fame that Prof has experienced will come back to bite him.
Drukker’s words are prophetic. As Prof gives a dinner speech about “right living,” Margaret gets up and leaves as she is not able to take what she feels is her husband’s hypocrisy. At home they argue about Prof not paying attention to his own family and to her, and Prof feeling like his own family, which includes Margaret, is another battle that he has to wage. As their words get more heated, Margaret starts to feel faint. She collapses in Prof’s arms and he yells to his children to get dressed as they are taking their mother to the hospital. There, Prof learns from the doctor that Margaret needs complete rest as she lies unconscious. Ernestine tells her father that Margaret has been the one who raised the children, and now that Paul and her, and in a few years Ben too, will be all grown up, she thinks what her mother is afraid of is what will she be needed for? She tells Prof that what’s eating at Margaret is that if she didn’t do all the things that she did, then Prof could’ve never done any of the things that he did. Ernestine really hits home when she says to Prof, “It’s hard when no one knows this. It’s harder still, when you don’t know it either.” In that moment, Prof knows he must change. In a series of montages we see Prof waiting diligently by Margaret’s side until she finally comes to, and then contemplating his life in a park. Chic’s narration tells us that the experience with Margaret made Prof realize what is really important in life and the corner newspaper boy announces the biggest headline of all, that Prof is quitting as coach. Young Ben breaks the news to Margaret, followed by Prof appearing to confirm the fact that he has resigned all responsibilities for athletics. Margaret tells him that she doesn’t want to be the reason for Prof Blood resigning. Prof assures her that she isn’t. He’ll coach again one day, but he won’t make it his life. He tells Margaret that she’s her life, their family is his life, and he’ll try never to forget that.
Prof turns in his keys to Arnold and they get into a final argument. Arnold also asks Prof not to attend any more basketball games and uses the funding of the annual budgets for Rosalie and Elmer as his personal ransom. Prof tells Arnold that he never ceases to amaze him. A montage follows that shows Prof in retirement. Many in the community mourn his absence but a few, those habitual ones who opposed him at every turn, react with glee. As symbols of his change, Prof clears out his menagerie and Zep is given away to an animal farm. He then surprises Margaret by saying he won’t take in the Passaic and Hackensack game because he doesn’t want to see the winning streak come to an end. Prof repeats this prediction during a speech to the Schoolmaster’s Club. And sure enough, Hackensack prevails over Passaic, 36 to 30. The newspaper boy announces the end of the streak at 159. Prof and Margaret walk by the newspaper boy as he shouts out the big news and Prof tells Margaret that ironically he was never concerned about the streak. To him, the greatest moment in basketball is when all the practice and hard work pays off in the game. Margaret admires him and tells Prof she never said that he couldn’t go to the games. Prof tells her he knows this, but Arnold did. Margaret reacts with disgust, “What right does he have to do that?” Prof tells her he’s just trying to keep the peace. A montage ensues that shows Prof away from the game. He avoids people who want to talk to him. Chic narrates that Prof, during this time away from the game, was indeed a lost soul. He hits rock bottom when they get word that ole Zep has died. Meanwhile, the Passaic basketball team, while not having a perfect season, still manages to hang in there and get into the state championship game against Union Hill.
As Prof relaxes at home, Margaret shows him two tickets to the finals that she got from Emil. Margaret tells Prof the heck with what Arnold said, they’re going to the game. At the game, an entering Prof and Margaret are treated like royalty, and in the standing room only crowd, they are afforded prime spots to view the game. What they see is not encouraging as Passaic is not playing well. Prof, although appearing calm on the outside is a horse chomping at the bit. At halftime they trail 17 to 13 to Union Hill. Watching his team blunder and then run into the dressing rooms, Prof fidgets and looks to Margaret. While she’s not wanting him to really leave, she relents. “Go on,” she says to Prof and he makes his way through the crowd. In the dressing room Amasa can’t find the words to rally the team. They then notice Prof entering and after Amasa asks him what should they do, Prof proceeds to give the boys the exact plan on how to turn the game around. When the game resumes, Passaic is a different team and their play is so impressive that with two minutes to go Prof tells Margaret that they can leave, for this game is over. True to his word, Passaic wins yet another state title.
Sitting outside in their automobile, Prof tells Margaret that he has resigned from his position altogether. He has had enough of Arnold, Drukker, Short, Benson, the whole lot of them. Margaret asks how will they get by? Prof smiles and tells her he’ll lock down something. He also gives her two tickets to Bermuda. Margaret beams happiness. They drive away. We return to the present and see Chic get up from his seat at the long table and walk around to take a final look around. We hear his continuing narration as he talks about how Prof and Margaret would go on to vacation in Bermuda many more times during their long marriage, until Margaret passed away in 1945. Prof died in 1955 and when he did he left one of the most enduring legacies in basketball history.
Chic explains that after Passaic, Prof went on to coach at St. Benedict’s Prep School where over a period of 24 seasons he amassed a coaching record of 446 wins. Over a 55 year coaching career he is credited with winning 1,268 games while losing only 165. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1960 among an induction class that included John Wooden of UCLA. In 1973, the Hall of Fame also finally inducted all of the Passaic Wonder Teams. Their combined high school record of 159 consecutive wins still stands today. Chic goes on to say that the Wonder Teams were ultimately cut short by a high school principal, the board of education, a few other athletic administrators, and an influential parent and member of the community. In effect, a small handful of people, not the court of public opinion, were responsible for removing one of the city’s most accomplished citizens from the high school he made famous. And when one peels away all of the possible reasons, Prof was squeezed out simply because he won too much. Today, Passaic doesn’t have much more than spotted industrial ruins as reminders of a lucrative industry long since departed, and an equally fading memory of a day when their high school basketball squads were referred to as The Wonder Teams. But as Chic finally starts to exit the cafeteria, his narration tells us the game of basketball is over a 120 years old. And while it’s hard to imagine today, where so much attention is given to the professional and collegiate levels, way back when the game was in its infancy, the greatest basketball in the world was being played right there in that cafeteria by a high school team. And they were coached by arguably the greatest coach during the game’s first forty years. As Chic, our narrator, finally turns and exits the door, we get a superimposed quote against a dark screen, which ends our story.
I train my boys for the game of life and not to win basketball games. If I succeed in that I have accomplished something worthwhile.
Ernest “Prof” Blood
Prof Blood – The Documentary
While Chic Hess continues his aspirations of one day producing a full feature length period piece sports drama, a documentary about Prof Blood has been financed by the grandson of the great coach. Ernest Benjamin “Ernie” Blood Jr., the son of the youngest of Prof and Margaret’s children, Ben Blood (1912-1998), will serve as Executive Producer of the documentary, for which filming is expected to commence in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, during 2021 and 2022.
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