The Joe Sims Milwaukee Striders Story
Thursday: 10:00 pm – Eclipse Center
Saturday: 1:30 pm – La Casa Grande
Passing the Baton presents a multi-faceted view of a small organization that made a big impact on its community. The Milwaukee Striders Track Club was started to provide Milwaukee boys and girls an opportunity to build their track, academic and civic skills through participation in a community characterized by hard work and love. For over 30 years, the Striders ran on the dedication of its founder Joe Sims. In 2009 Joe Sims passed away, but not before handing the baton to a new era of coaches and volunteers. This film follows a new generation of Striders as they attempt to carry on the values and principles that helped Joe Sims turn the Striders into a premiere track club.
The Milwaukee Striders Track Club was started to provide Milwaukee boys and girls an opportunity to build their track, academic and civic skills through participation in a community characterized by hard work and love. For 30 years, the Striders ran on the dedication of its founder Joe Sims and what little charitable handouts he could collect. Joe helped give African-American youth in Milwaukee something productive to do during their summer months and pushed each athlete to succeed both on and off the track. In 2009 Joe Sims passed away, but not before handing the baton to a new era of coaches and volunteers who are working to carry on the values and principles that helped Joe Sims turn the Striders into a premiere track club.
Les White and his wife Chrystal were selected to by Joe to serve as the new head coach and executive director of the Striders. There four children ranging in age from 17 to 5 currently run for the team as do the children of many other coaches and team parents enlisted by Les and Chrystal to help manage the Striders. The team presently rosters about 120 athletes, but that number is expanding and the team is uncertain of how they can continue to operate at an affordable cost. Knowing the impact being a Strider has had on former runners they refuse to say no to any kid interested in running, even if that runner cannot pay the modest fees. Like Joe, the Whites and other coaches on the team often dip into their own pockets in the hopes of keeping these young athletes on the track and away from bad influences.
Past Striders include famous alums like NFL running backs Michael Bennet and Brian Calhoun, professional track star Demi Omole, Olympic sprinter Esther Jones, and Robert Hackett – an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. While not all Striders go on to fame, most do excel in school, in their community and many alum return to give back to an organization that played such an s an important role in the lives and their community. In a city where a majority of public students do not graduate from high school, ninety percent of Striders runners graduate high school and attend college, with many of them earning partial or full athletic scholarships. The lessons these kids learn on the track carry over into their homes, their classrooms and their community.
Over the course of the 2009 calendar year, a crew of 12 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee undergraduate film students along with their instructor documented the Striders. Their cameras recorded a year of transition starting with the death of Joe Sims and ascending to the Junior National Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa. As the films looks back at Joe Sims’ legacy, it follows the new generation of Striders runners, coaches, and families. Assembled from over 250 hours off footage shot by first-time filmmakers Passing the Baton comes together to present a unique look into the lives of generous souls dedicated to improving the lives of youth in his community through hard work and athleticism.
Passing the Baton is Ryan Sarnowski’s first feature length documentary. It was shot and edited in collaboration with students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and doc|UWM a documentary media center in UWM’s Peck School of the Arts – Film Department. doc|UWM bridges academics with real world experience and gives students the unique opportunity to work on professional productions before graduating. Students and affiliated faculty collaborate on short form videos that raise awareness about a variety of contemporary political and social issues as well as feature-length documentaries for public television broadcast. Funding for the project was provided by The Helen Bader Foundation.