More Than Rivals is based on a true story. Here’s The Manager’s Story – a fascinating look at how the faith-based book project came alive. We spoke with Nancy Cuomo Bailey to get the background story.
Q: How did the idea come about to do a story about Union and Gallatin High Schools?
A: Eddie Sherlin came to my office and wanted me to make a movie out of his life story. Initially I told him I only produced training videos; but Eddie was persistent! He called me every day until I agreed to at least meet his friends in Gallatin. When I finally met them, I immediately fell in love with them and his story.
Q: And how did Eddie think his story would have an impact? How did it affect him?
A: Eddie was told by many people he knew that what he and Bill Ligon did changed their lives forever. Eddie felt he and Bill helped pave the way for the integration of Union High and Gallatin High.
Eddie was very spiritual… here is a quote from his journal, “Being a Christian and going to church were part of my life and could have been the motivation for what was definitely a major defining moment in my life… the truth is I never really focused on the color of anyone’s skin. I didn’t see people as black or white, I just saw them as basketball players”
Q: Who introduced you to Bill Ligon:
A: Eddie introduced me to Bill Ligon when I first went to Gallatin.
Q: Who was most helpful in gathering initial information or pointing you to resources about the story and Gallatin?
A: Both Eddie and Bill were extremely helpful in getting information that I needed. They gave me year books, scrapbooks, lists of names to contact.
Q: At what point did you realize this was a story worth pursuing?
A: I realized the story was worth pursuing when we taped testimonials from both Eddie and Bill’s friends and family. The taping was very emotional. We used the Palace Theater in Gallatin for some of the interviews. A few of Bill’s black friends were in tears as they sat for the first time in their lives in the downstairs front row seats of the theater. They had never been allowed to do that before.
Q: Did you know from the outset it was a story steeped in civil rights tensions and school integration?
A: Because I grew up in a small rural town in upstate New York, I read about segregation, but never lived with it. We had neighbors who were different races. Interviewing the people from Gallatin who lived through the civil rights movement was an eye opener!
Q: How did you find your author, Ken Abraham?
A: I found Ken Abraham through a mutual friend in Nashville. When I told her I was thinking about having a book written, she immediately came up with Ken’s name and contact information.
Q: What did you learn about the schools and the town that emotionally moved you the most?
A: I learned that the students from Union High did not want to “lose their heritage”… they were a close knit community… prayed before classes, had special routines, did things a certain way etc. I was thinking about the private school I attended and we did the same things… I would have been crushed if they closed my high school. And repeating my previous statement about how blacks were not allowed to sit with whites in the movie theater and were forced to sit in the balcony… watching a few blacks with tears in their eyes because this was the first time they sat in the downstairs part of the theater.
Q: Do you still communicate with Eddie Sherlin and Bill Ligon?
A: I continue to visit with both Eddie and Bill several times a year and we talk on the phone and email each other weekly.
Q: Who do you feel will be interested in the book? Is it written for a particular audience?
A: The faith-based book will have a broad appeal: Christians, sports enthusiasts, readers looking for inspiration, African-Americans, teenagers, young adults, and mature audiences. Parents will buy this book to read to their children with the lessons learned from the faith-based story. We have a twelve-week study guide, “The Power of Friendship”, that is available for free download on morethanrivals-thebook.com.
Q: When will the book be published and available for readers?
A: The book is available now! You can buy it in your favorite bookstore or online!