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Remembering a legend

Calvin Jones’ life on football field recreated for movie scene

April 28, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Edwin "Boomer" Harrison II sat in the stands at Harding Stadium to watch his grandfather, Calvin Jones, play offensive and defensive guard for the Steubenville Big Red football team one more time.

Infield Fly Productions recreated a football game atmosphere Friday night to allow Harrison to "watch" Calvin Jones.

Jones, a 1952 graduate of Steubenville High School was killed in a plane crash on Dec. 9, 1956, over the Canadian Rocky Mountains while playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers following a stellar career at the University of Iowa.

Article Photos

FAMILY — Members of the Calvin Jones family gathered under the lights Friday night at Harding Stadium for a scene in the movie about the former Steubenville High School and University of Iowa football star. Standing in front of the stands were, from left, Edwin Harrison I, the son of Jones, Patti West, cousin of Jones, and Edwin “Boomer” Harrison II, grandson of Jones. - Dave Gossett

He left behind family members in Steubenville and a four month old son in Houston, Texas.

"We had no idea Calvin had a son in Texas. He apparently had a girlfriend while he was at the University of Iowa who got pregnant. She was the daughter of a Methodist minister in Houston who along with his wife adopted Edwin Harrison I and raised him as their own son. You know what it was like in the 1950s when a girl got pregnant. It wasn't until he was in the fourth grade when he started questioning why his parents were so much older than his classmates' parents," Patti West related.

"His mother waited until after her parents died 10 years ago to contact Steubenville High School to find any relatives of Calvin Jones. I was involved at the high school and they told her I was a niece and that's when we first made contact," continued West.

"My mother, Mildred Minnifield, was Calvin's sister," said West.

West met her cousin Edwin Harrison I and his son Edwin Harrison II when they flew into Pittsburgh International..

"I was like a little kid looking out the window when the plane was taxiing up. And then the film crew made me wait at the other end of the reception area so they could put mics on my cousin and his son. I was just so excited to finally meet them in person," said West.

"It is neat to see Calvin's grandson following in his grandfather's footsteps and playing in the Canadian Football League. I give all credit to God for allowing us to come together and to meet my cousin and his son," West added.

Paul Cowan of Infield Fly Productions of Montreal said it was, "great to see the family reunion. Well it was more of a family union. That's what makes this film so unique. It is a look at Calvin Jones the football player and also at his family both in Houston and in Steubenville. It was very moving to see the two families meet face to face for the first time."

Four hours before game time and Cowan was working his cell phone to check on last minute details.

"We want to show how Calvin Jones came out of the town that was and still is football crazy," said Cowan.

"This is actually perfect fall type weather for a high school football game in Steubenville, It a perfect setting for the filming," he added.

"Coach Reno Saccoccia is meeting with the Big Red team in their locker room where Reno will dedicate the game in honor of Calvin Jones. Reno has been great through all of this. He is treating the filming of the game sequence like a real event," Cowan said.

"We also found a gentleman who had filmed the Big Red football games using 16 mm film back in the late 1940s. So we can splice some of that footage together with Boomer looking down at the field from the stands," explained Cowan.

Frank Gilliam, a teammate of Jones at Big Red and Iowa said he came home to Steubenville, "because Calvin was my friend."

"He was a big physical, tough guy, a good friend who loved football. He played hard and was an outstanding player. It has been a long time coming for Calvin but I am glad Calvin is being recognized for who he was," said Gilliam.

Bill Kerr played on the line with Jones for two years.

"He was much more than just a great football player. Calvin had class, He was a very good student and a very good citizen. He respected his teachers and the school administration and I never heard him raise his voice to anyone. He was one of the most pleasant persons I ever knew," described Kerr.

Robert Coker, seven years younger than Jones remembered the football star coming to his house, "to eat my mother's homemade rolls. He loved those rolls. I also know he always looked out for the kids who couldn't afford a ticket for the football games here. He would talk to the police officer before the game and mention a couple of kids who would be at the gate and they would be allowed into the game," recalled Coker.

The Steubenville High School marching band was playing their hearts out Friday night as if the football team was playing a rival on the gridiron.

And the Big Red cheerleaders were also urging the crowd to cheer for the imaginary game that was filmed under the Harding Stadium lights.

"Someone else had the idea for this film. They phoned me and I accepted the assignment. I haven't did a sports film for a number of years but this has been fun. I have really enjoyed every aspect of this film. This is the kind of story I enjoy," remarked Cowan.

"We will remain in Steubenville for the next couple of days to shoot places where Calvin lived and visited during his early life. Steubenville and the people have been tremendous in helping us and making us all feel welcome," noted Cowan.

"It has been nice to work in a town where people go out of their way to help you. That just doesn't happen in the larger cities. People are friendly in Steubenville," said Cowan.

"I will be sending copies of the finished film to Patti West as well as the high school. But to be honest with you I am not sure how Steubenville residents will be able to see this film. I hope anyone interested can see the product because it is about a young man who came from Steubenville and was unfortunately killed in a plane crash as he was making a name for himself," commented Cowan.

Cowan said the movie will be shown on the TSN Canadian sports network.

"Then we will be flying to Houston for Boomer's wedding. The nice thing about Boomer is creating a foundation in Calvin's name and his own for blind athletes. He is asking all guests attending the wedding to not bring gifts but to make a donation to the foundation. This is something he has been working on for the past three years," Cowan said.

Jones was elected the University of Iowa team captain his senior year and was awarded the Outland Trophy as the nation's top college lineman.

Jones became the first African-American to be pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, appearing on the front on the Sept. 27, 1954, edition.

According to Cowan, Jones declined offers to play in the National Football League because of lower wages for African-American professional football players and joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL.

Jones quickly made a name for himself in the league and was chosen to play in the Canadian League All-Star game in Vancouver B.C., Dec. 8, 1956 one day before he died.

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