In Black And White, For The Silver Screen – A Lacrosse Story

By John Eisenberg
Updated: January 29, 2006

BALTIMORE, Md. — Chip Silverman’s dream of a lacrosse movie is close enough to becoming a reality now that he is wondering who might play him.

“Ben Stiller, that would be great,” he said yesterday at his Cross Keys digs. “Tobey Maguire would be great, too.”

Was he just dreaming on a snowy March morning? Hardly. Warner Brothers is on the verge of optioning his book, Ten Bears, about his experience as the white coach of a black lacrosse team at Morgan State during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Hollywood has turned out a run of successful sports movies lately, from Remember the Titans to Miracle to Coach Carter. The next one might center around, of all things, lacrosse.

“I always believed there was a movie in this story,” said Silverman, 62, a charter Diner Guy and for many years one of Maryland’s leading voices on substance abuse counseling and program administration.

The cinematic potential of Ten Bears has lured others. A PBS documentary is in the works. ESPN recently broadcast a long SportsCenter segment, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Morgan’s upset of Washington and Lee, then the nation’s top-ranked team.

The idea has rattled around Hollywood since Silverman’s book came out in 2001. It wound up in the hands of Alissa Phillips, now an executive with Michael De Luca Productions. She and De Luca, former studio chief of New Line Cinema, are working on the deal with Warner.

“This is a great story with great characters. It deserves to be a movie,” Phillips said yesterday from her Hollywood office. “It has been a dream of mine to find a studio to finance it. What’s happening is exciting.”

Scriptwriters are notorious for blending fiction into fact-based stories to add drama, but Ten Bears doesn’t need help. Silverman was a 27-year-old assistant graduate school dean at Morgan State in 1969 when Earl Banks, the school’s legendary football coach and athletic director, stopped him on a walk across campus. Baltimore’s epic civil rights struggle was at a crescendo.

“Earl said to me, ‘Silverman, you’re white; you play lacrosse?’ ” Silverman recalled. “Next thing I knew, I was coaching.”

He had played, and his hallway fliers lured 30 athletes to a meeting, including a football player named Stan Cherry.

“Cherry introduced himself and said, ‘I hate white people,’ ” Silverman said.

This was during Morgan’s athletic heyday, when Cherry was just one of many future pro athletes roaming the halls. It may have sounded like a stretch for a historically black school to field a team in a sport that was almost exclusively white, but Morgan had its own advantages.

“We had guys who were 6 foot 6 and 250 pounds and could run like the wind. Those boys [on opposing lacrosse teams] from Amherst and Swarthmore didn’t know what to do,” Silverman said.

College lacrosse’s only predominantly black team wound up playing brilliantly for its white coach. The Bears were a little raw in places, but they cracked the national top 10 and advanced to the championship tournament twice in Silverman’s tenure.

Their 8-7 upset of Washington and Lee was their crowning achievement – and a perfect peak for the movie, Phillips said.

Silverman departed after 1975 and later coached at the University of Baltimore. Morgan eventually dropped lacrosse, but Silverman’s former players have thrived.

Clarence Davis, Tony Fulton and Curt Anderson are state house delegates from Baltimore. Joe Foulkes helped start the BRIDGE program aimed at expanding lacrosse into inner cities. Wayne Jackson is the athletic director at Northwestern High School. Dave Raymond owns a courier business in Atlanta. Cherry played for the Colts but died at 42.

Miles Harrison, who co-wrote Ten Bears with Silverman, is a local surgeon whose son, Kyle, was a lacrosse star at Friends and is now an All-American at Johns Hopkins.

“The guys look at Kyle as their legacy,” Silverman said.

But lacrosse hasn’t integrated as much as Silverman thought it might after Morgan’s success. Harrison, Virginia’s John Christmas and Towson’s Oliver Bacon are all sons of men who played for Silverman, and there are other African-Americans in the college game, but it is hardly a tidal wave.

“I thought there were would be more by now, to be honest,” Silverman said. “Are there more than ever before? I think so. But it’s two or three or four on a team. It’s hard. The sport is expensive.”

A Ten Bears movie would focus just on Morgan’s team, of course, not on its legacy. Silverman’s players, still a close-knit group, have been busy casting themselves.

“One guy said, ‘Denzel Washington should play me,’ and I just laughed,” Silverman said.

And who would play the Bears’ Jewish coach?

“At this point, after working on this [deal] for three years, I wouldn’t care if it was Danny DeVito,” Silverman said. “I just want the deal to get done. I think it would be great to see the story on the screen.”