Sailing with Shoeless Wonders
You meet some fascinating people sailing. Rob Spain took Sara Elizabeth Timmins out on the York River in exchange for her hiking the back country of Yellowstone with him. Sara is no stranger to adventure, for she’s a Hollywood film producer who’s currently working on “Shoeless Wonders” in Lynchburg.
“It’s about orphans who went undefeated in football while playing in their bare feet,” she explained. Everyone on the boat had to stop for a moment to process the complexity of that scene. “They were called the Shoeless Wonders, so that’s the title of the film. We’re looking for investors.”
The movie includes recollections of players who are still alive today. The website wbur.org picks up the story, edited slightly here:
In the 1940s Glen Thomas and his brother Cliff were taken in as orphans by a minister and eventually transferred to the Presbyterian Home in Lynchburg. Glen was 6 and Cliff was 4.
Hugh Stallard arrived at the home when he was 6. These three boys would become part of the third incarnation of the Shoeless Wonders, a football team that dominated their rivals while playing barefoot.
Cliff Thomas recalled that even at the age of 4 the children had chores. During school, the thoughts of the 120 children often turned to the field behind the cottages where they lived. It was here they could run and play their favorite sports — barefoot. “We went barefoot all summer anyway,” said Stallard. The boys would only put their shoes on for Sunday church.
Three Eras of ‘Wonders’
The first Shoeless Wonder team began in the early 1920s. It was unbeaten and held its opponents scoreless for nearly a decade. The team disbanded in the early ’30s when the boys turned 18 and left the school. Later in the ’30s, Joe Blackburn played for the next team, which dissolved at the beginning of World War II. Eventually, he became the head of the school and wanted to create another Shoeless Wonders team. Word got around. Eventually the Shoeless Wonders were also the subject of a Universal Pictures newsreel.
“I think Joe wanted to carry on the tradition,” Stallard said. “He said, ‘They played barefoot, and they were Shoeless Wonders. So we’re going to play barefoot.’ And the funny thing about it, I don’t think any of us knew the difference,” added Glen Thomas, who said they practiced every night. Stallard insisted no one ever stubbed or broke a toe during practice or a game. “The most amazing thing [was] people would ask about, ‘How about barefoot when it’s snowing?'” Stallard said. “We didn’t even think about the snow.”
There were only 11 players and everyone played offense and defense. “Wasn’t anything like what you hear in college football or even high school anymore,” Cliff Thomas said. He should know. He’s the grandfather of Logan Thomas, the former Virginia Tech quarterback now with the Arizona Cardinals.
Wonders No More
The team disbanded for good in the mid-1950s when interest and the number of boys dwindled. Glen Thomas said the Shoeless Wonders will never be replicated. Living together as a family was the key to their success on the football field and in their lives.
Sara Timmins will hold an event Aug. 17 to launch promotion of the film as it gears up for release next year. Author David Baldacci will be the guest speaker. David and Sara collaborated on her second film, “Wish You Well,” based on his 2007 novel. Sara has produced three films in Virginia, described on her company website http://www.lifeoutloudfilms.com/. The company motto is, “Don’t just make a film. Make a difference.”
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