Tradition of Excellence documentary receives national attention

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"And Magazine" is a national publication which focuses on Culture and Politics. Anthony Bergan refers to the film not "a New Haven story or a Missouri story. This isn't a story limited to a region or a specific demographic. This is an American story."

He also says, "This is the story of a community at its best....Yes, it's a story about sports, but even more, it is a story about people -- told by the people, for the people."


By Anthony Bergen
Senior Literary Editor for And Magazine

TRADITION OF EXCELLENCE
A Sports Story Representing America At Its Best

 

Two of the things that I love most in life are sports and stories, and fortunately, those two subjects are not mutually exclusive. From time-to-time sports is not just about the competition -- who wins or who loses, who is best and who is worst, who scores most and who does least. We can hype it up and say that it's the world's most authentic reality show -- teams of individuals who go to battle in a do-or-die, live-action, minute-to-minute, blood-sweat-and-tears triumph or tragedy that we tend to label with the misnomer of "game".

Yet, sometimes, the best thing about sports is that the people playing the games are people who are -- at the purest, most genuine level -- simply telling and living an always-evolving story.

In a tiny, bucolic town of less than 2,000 people hidden along the Missouri River, a high school basketball program has quietly built a legacy that rivals Hickory High in Hoosiers, and in Tradition of Excellence: 100 Years of New Haven Basketball, two filmmakers from New Haven, Missouri have captured the unique story of their Alma Mater -- a high school basketball program which has become a perennial contender and historic powerhouse despite its tiny enrollment and Missouri's unquestionably deserved reputation as a state with a rich basketball history full of tough competition.

New Haven High School fielded its first basketball team in 1911, and for the first years of its existence they actually played outside. Because of the town's small population and the high school's even smaller enrollment, the school doesn't have football or soccer -- sports that many of the towns surrounding New Haven tend to be crazy about. New Haven doesn't even have a stadium. What it does have, however, is a story that is compelling and beautifully told in Tradition of Excellence.

Keith Davis and John Aichholz of Splinter Media Productions are New Haven natives who both graduated from New Haven High School, and Davis was a member of New Haven's 1999 State Championship team. As New Haven natives, they have a deep understanding of what basketball means to their hometown, and how the New Haven Shamrocks have made a lasting impact on high school basketball in the State of Missouri.

For 18 months, Davis and Aichholz traveled throughout the country and interviewed scores of former players, coaches, local historians, and media figures from the past 60 years about their experience with New Haven's Tradition of Excellence. It is a fitting format in that there is no narrator in this documentary -- instead, Davis and Aichholz allow the people who created the story to tell the story, their story. Through their intensive research, Davis and Aichholz use the personal interviews as the foundation for their film, and that personal touch is enriched by one hundred years of historic photographs, game footage, and original newspaper accounts of New Haven's basketball program.

While Tradition of Excellence: 100 Years of New Haven Basketball is a biography of a high school sports program, that program is also the lifeblood of the town of New Haven. The Missouri River runs through New Haven, but basketball powers the soul of the pastoral village located between Columbia and St. Louis. The impact of the New Haven Shamrocks basketball program on the town of New Haven is readily apparent: despite the fact that the town's phone book is dominated by German last names and the streets and signs highlight the proud German heritage of the region, New Haven is a town that bleeds the green-and-white of its Shamrocks.

Since reliable records have been kept, New Haven High School has reached Missouri's Final Four on 10 different occasions and won eight Missouri State Championships -- more than all but one other school in the state. Beginning in 1956, New Haven won four straight state titles, and for the past 28 years the team has been coached by Ray Steinhoff who has become an icon -- not only in New Haven, but throughout the state -- due to his success, humility, kindness, and innate ability to teach something special to every player who joins one of his teams. In 2011, Steinhoff won his 500th career game, was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, honored by the Missouri State Legislature, and had the court that his teams play on at New Haven High School dedicated in his name.

Tradition of Excellence: 100 Years of New Haven Basketball is not about one person, however. It's not about one team, or even the eight teams which have won Missouri State Championships. It's about a town's passion for basketball, a community's support of its young people, and a legacy that is not only handed down to each generation but readily, proudly, and excitedly accepted by those who receive it. When it comes to the basketball program at New Haven High School a torch is not merely passed; instead, more people gather around the bonfire and fuel it with their contribution.

Tradition of Excellence isn't a New Haven story or a Missouri story. This isn't a story limited to a region or a specific demographic. This is an American story. This is the story of a community at its best, doing what it loves, and always giving back. It is a metaphor representing the very best qualities of our country and how far we can progress together with passion, support, and hard work. Yes, it's a story about sports, but even more, it is a story about people -- told by the people, for the people.

The legacy that is New Haven's basketball program, as told in Tradition of Excellence, is an achievement that will be enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 (only the second such induction in Missouri history, and an honor largely due to the power of this film and hard work of its filmmakers). But the standard set by the people of this town and the filmmakers who bring us this story is one that we can only hope to always keep striving for and -- when we're at our very best -- be fortunate enough to achieve.

Tradition of Excellence: 100 Years of New Haven Basketball, produced by Keith Davis and John Aichholz of Splinter Media Productions, is out on DVD now. You can see the trailer here, and order the film here.