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News Section: Sports

VIDEO: Through the Tunnel

Published Saturday, September 25, 2010 3:00 am

BRADENTON -- Through the Tunnel is the award-winning documentary that tells the story of the Lincoln High Trojans, the football team of the former Manatee County school for African American students prior to desegregation. Players literally had to walk through the tunnel that was dug beneath the highway in order to get to their field, an event that became an almost spiritual ritual for the team.

The film focuses mostly on two integral members of Lincoln folklore, former head coach Eddie Shannon and former NFL star Henry Lawrence. Lawrence, a Lincoln alum, would go on to start in three Super Bowls for the Oakland Raiders, twice being named to the Pro Bowl. Still looking fit enough to don the pads at 59, Lawrence is an articulate and gregarious subject whose obvious reverence for his high school playing days are the heart of the film.


Palmetto native and Lincoln High alum Henry Lawrence

Lawrence, who was an All-American at Florida A&M before being taken in the first round by Oakland, tells story after story about his days playing with other Lincoln alumni like Ray Bellamy, the first African American player to suit up for the Miami Hurricanes, at a time when such integration was nearly unheard of in the south. Lawrence currently spends his time running the Henry Lawrence Youth Foundation in Palmetto, helping to mentor and provide opportunities for kids. If Lawrence is the film’s heart, Coach Shannon is its conscience. The 54-year coaching veteran was an integral figure when Lincoln was integrated with Manatee, helping to create the national football powerhouse that exists today.

Shannon, who can still be seen rallying the team on Coach Kinnan’s sidelines to this day, exudes the powerful combination of humility, wisdom and patience that undoubtedly were welcomed gifts to a situation that was quite challenging to say the least. The film briefly explores some of the darker sides of a shameful era in our history, and both Lawrence and Shannon politely defer to “you can just imagine” expressions when describing the difficulties of integrating schools in the Deep South in 1970.

However, the brilliant cinematography, slowly blending black and white images that more pointedly depict the prevailing emotions of the era, makes it easy to imagine the indignities suffered by young men thrown into a near impossible situation. Hymns performed by the St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church Choir mimic the prayer songs sung by Trojan players as they passed through that tunnel and give the film an almost eerie quality of realism. Narrator E.D. “Moody” Johnson is nothing short of perfect.

Directed by Durand Adams, Charles E. Williams, and Charles Clapsaddle and produced in partnership with ME-TV, Through the Tunnel is a triumphant film that resists the sentimental, low-hanging fruit to deliver an engaging and moving film that will not soon be forgotten by those who view it.


View the entire 45-minute film below

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