A blind man playing football?
Travis Freeman knows all about that, and his story of refusing to let bacterial meningitis and its aftereffects dictate his life is told in a powerful movie 23 Blast, which debuts nationwide Friday.
Freeman grew up in Kentucky playing little league football with his best friend, Jerry Baker. But at 12, Freeman began getting migraines that lasted for days and had pain in his left eye.
Freeman had emergency surgery but emerged completely blind. Yet his spirit and faith refused to let blindness keep him from the game he loved.
Through middle school and at Corbin (Ky.) High School into the late 1990s, Freeman played center, helped by teammates who would tell him where to go on plays.
His story is brought to life in the independent film 23 Blast, written by a teammate and that player’s mother, Bram and Toni Hoover. It is also the directorial debut of actor Dylan Baker, known for his portrayal of Dr. Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3. Baker also plays Freeman’s father, Larry.
The film follows Freeman (actor Mark Hapka) in his effort to satisfy his unconditional love for the game and play alongside his best friend, Jerry (Bram Hoover), who is lured into teenage temptations of alcohol and drugs. Though their friendship is challenged, their bond over football supersedes and they unite to help the team advance to the state playoffs.
In the film and in life, Freeman credits the Corbin community for encouraging his dream. He said he is honored to have his story told.
“This movie captured the spirit of my story,” said Freeman, who is featured in the film as his adult self and plays a preacher during a dream sequence.
Freeman, who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Expository Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, is a pastor and adjunct instructor of religion at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.
Baker filmed in Corbin for 23 days, starting in April 2012, because he wanted the small town and the people who helped Freeman to be recognized as well.
“Corbin became a place where a young man going through something really awful would get the support of this community and move forward and achieve his dreams,” Baker said.
The city embraced the opportunity to be part of the experience, with residents cast in the film.
“It’s not just a movie,” Baker said. “You’re trying to bring people into the sphere of influence of a real person.
“Travis’ main message is that disability does not have to be inability. His desire is to tell people there’s hope, and you’ve got to keep fighting.”