There’s a wonderful moment near the end of “The Gray Seasons” when a frustrated Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller says that this isn’t “Hoosiers,” “Coach Carter,” or “Love and Basketball.” In many ways, though, the story of Gray-Miller’s tenure at St. Louis University is raw, honest, and inspiring in its own way.
When reached by phone for an interview, director Robert Herrera said he started following the Lady Billikens during the 2006-2007 basketball season.
“That was Coach Gray-Miller’s second season, so these girls coming in were her recruits. The first year, you inherit a team, and if you are lucky, you maybe squeeze in a quick summer recruit,” he explained. “But they had nothing like that: these were their first true-blue group into the program.”
Unprecedented access to the Lady Billikens
Herrera and his crew had unprecedented access to the coach and players, who are named the Lady Billikens after the school’s iconic mascot. As a result, it’s easy to get emotionally invested in their lives as their story unfolds onscreen. Some players choose to leave while others work through devastating injuries.
“Katie [Paganelli] is the one who stayed, but suffered that injury. Amanda [Kemezys] stayed, but was prone to injury,” Herrera said. “At the end of the day, they are all injured at some point. Amy was the first one that left; that was Katie’s friend. It wasn’t as shocking as Maggie [leaving]. Amy always kind of struggled to be part of the program. Theresa [Lisch] got engaged and left a year early”
Herrera pointed out that during his first year with Gray-Miller’s new recruits, he actually spent the least amount of time filming the team.
“The people who were interested in the project were primarily interested in doing a film about the men’s team. So I was actually filming both,” he said. “I followed the women’s team as a courtesy to the athletic director. It really kicked off a story with the women’s program that we really had no intention of telling.”
One year quickly turns into four
“The Gray Seasons” is like a virtual time capsule, preserving the evolution of Shimmy Gray-Miller and her team over a four-year period. It’s intriguing to watch the players change and grow throughout their college careers.
“We didn’t know we would go four years. When we started, we said ‘Let’s just shoot a year and see what happens. Well, that year was interesting-let’s shoot a second year and see what happens,'” Herrera said. “And it just framed out that we had to stop at some point. I had to move on with my life; my entire late 20’s was this project.”
Though it seems that Herrera is there for every crucial and intimate moment, Coach Gray-Miller told the director she doesn’t even remember having cameras pointed at her.
“She doesn’t remember me being in locker rooms. She doesn’t remember me standing right next to her on the sideline with a camera a foot or two from her face. She doesn’t remember it; she got so used to it being around,” Herrera explained.
“The Gray Seasons” is featured as part of the Missouri History Museums 250 in 250 exhibit, with a screening in their Lee Auditorium on May 22nd as part of St. Louis’ 250th birthday celebration.
The documentary can be viewed on Amazon Prime and Video on Demand. The DVD also is available on the official movie website.