Jack Smith is a pioneer in the world of skateboarding, having been among the first persons to push a board more than 2,300 miles across the U.S. in 1976; then recreating the feat in 1984, 2003 and 2013 along with a solo-push on an electric board in 2018. His boards are preserved at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.and he started the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum to celebrate the sport he loves.
But it was a fateful decision taken in 1993 that has led to an adventure in the world of filmmaking. And believe it or not, it has nothing to do with skating.
Smith explains that his old business partner and life-long friend, Paul Dunn, by chance saw a story in the newspaper back in 1992.
The two were operating a mail-order business, he explains, when Dunn came across an Associated Press story about a fellow in Whitten, Iowa named Dudley Cray who was searching for someone to take over an old high school he owned and bring jobs to the tiny little town of about 150 people.
“We contacted him,” Smith says, “and he told us to go take a look at the building.”
One of the first things they saw was “Denise Long Park” in Whitten. A man named Dwight Long was caretaker of the school and he told of his niece, Denise, who Smith says was a legend in Whitten after she led Union-Whitten High to the Iowa State Championships in 1968 beating Everly H.S. 113-107.
“In the late ‘60s,” Smith says, “Denise Long was possibly the greatest girls basketball player in the nation.” Long scored 64 points in that championship game and passed into legend in small-town Iowa.
The Whitten school didn’t pan out, but led to another opportunity at nearby New Providence, Iowa, and a similar situation with a closed school that was offered for lease for $1 a year for five years.
“The photos looked good,” Smith says. “That building was in much better shape.” It also had a rather unique “roundhouse” gym built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936.
“We moved the business into the school,” Smith recalls. “The roundhouse was like something out of the movie, ‘Hoosiers.’” he said. “1993 was the last year for 6-on-6 basketball.”
Smith was fascinated by the game, which he’d never heard of before.
He describes a fast-paced, half-court game of 3-on-3, where a player can only take two dribbles with the ball and must either pass or shoot. Neither set of players crosses mid-court, making for an exciting game that had been played since the 1920s.
“It was a very wide-open game,” says Smith, who played basketball at MBHS. “They had numerous games with scores over 100 points.”
Girls’ 6-on-6 basketball was huge in Iowa and several other States.
“It was like high school football in Texas,” he said. “Or like boys basketball in Indiana. The towns were respected based on how well their girls’ teams did. They held the State Championships in the Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines. It was a really big deal.”
He always thought the story would make a great book or movie. He moved home in 1996 and eventually wrote a 16-page treatment (outline) for a movie script.
It started out as a story about the small town and evolved over the years. The script was optioned three times, he explains, but never progressed to the point of being produced.
“In November 2018,” he said, “I thought I’d give it one more shot.” He posted the first three pages of the treatment on Facebook, and like some Cinderella story on the court, hit the proverbial buzzer beater, when Innovative Pictures, an independent filmmaker from Iowa, signed on to make the film, that he jokes has been “24 years in the making.”
The script evolved greatly and Smith said the final version that was filmed this past January in New Providence, focuses on a New York Times sports writer who was sent to Iowa in 1993 to write about that final season of 6-on-6 hoops.
“He was a Sports Illustrated type reporter,” Smith said of the new storyline. “He’s an NBA writer and thinks 6-on-6 girls basketball was not worth his time.”
Smith says he doesn’t want to give away too much of the film’s storyline, but suffice it to say the passion of the teams and fans impresses and wins over the writer.
Smith and wife, Kathy, in January went to New Providence for filming. It was quite the event for a small town. A Facebook page devoted to the film (see: facebook.com/NewProvidenceFilm) is filled with posts from former players and coaches, reliving the glory days of the sport, which Smith says his own mother recalls playing in high school.
He explains that girls were not thought able to handle the rigors of a full-court game and so this half-court version was invented in 1920 and took hold in a big way, being played across several states until 1993.
The film, “New Providence,” was scheduled for release until the Coronavirus pandemic delayed it.
Smith, who is a co-writer and co-producer, said the plan is to take the film to film festivals and try to find a distributor.
One thing’s for sure, the film should be a big hit in Iowa, especially in little towns like New Providence that Smith said still has only about 175 people. Smith said there is a 20-theater chain in Iowa that is interested in running the film.
To see the film’s trailer, go to:
Meantime, Smith’s skateboarding again drew the attention of the Smithsonian.
Smith explains that recently two women from the Smithsonian, Betsy Binckley Gordon and Jane Rogers, who are researching a book telling the story of skateboarding, paid a visit to the Morro Bay Museum. They were interested in Smith’s multiple tales of kicking a board across the U.S.
His first two cross-country rides — in 1976 and 1984 — were done for fun. In 2003, Smith and friends including Dunn, rode across America to raise awareness of Lowe Syndrome, a genetic disease that claimed the life of his son.
A 2013 push was done to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, which his father died from.
His son Dylan’s Rayne Limited Edition long board used on that 2013 ride is also now part of the Smithsonian’s collection, along with the Inboard Technology electric skateboard that Smith used for a 2018 solo ride across the U.S.
That final ride was done to promote the electric boards that are becoming more popular among people as a means of transportation and to become the first man to ride an electric board across the U.S. But more so, just to prove to himself that he could still do it.
Smith has to pinch himself when he thinks about some skateboarding kid from Morro Bay having his skateboards included the collection of the Smithsonian.
“When I started skateboarding at 17,” Smith says, “if someone told me some day I’d have a board in the Smithsonian, I would have thought they were nuts.”
With the mass closures of businesses caused by the Coronavirus, Smith says the Skateboard Museum, located at 783 Market Ave., is also closed. But he plans to put a virtual tour to the Museum’s Facebook page, see: mbskate.com for a link to the Facebook page.