The Chatter

ESPN 30 For 30's "Baltimore Boys" Debuts on Tuesday

Director and Park Heights native Sheldon Candis talks challenges and rewards during filmmaking.

By Jess Mayhugh | August 07, 2017, 4:30 pm

The Chatter

ESPN 30 For 30's "Baltimore Boys" Debuts on Tuesday

Director and Park Heights native Sheldon Candis talks challenges and rewards during filmmaking.

By Jess Mayhugh | August 07, 2017, 4:30 pm


Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

The early 1980s was a tumultuous time in Baltimore—and paralleled what was happening in a lot of other American cities. Drugs were running rampant, the public health and school systems were failing, and Bethlehem Steel closed down, causing thousands of people to lose their jobs.

But there was a group of young men that found success on the hardwood court of Dunbar High School, and it wasn't thanks to a big budget or even a proper training center. Despite all odds, they became the greatest high school basketball team of all time. On Tuesday night at 8 p.m., ESPN will air Baltimore Boys as part of its popular "30 for 30" series and chronicle the tale of the Dunbar Poets both on and off the court.

"The best documentaries lead you to an unexpected place," says co-director and Park Heights native Sheldon Candis. "You think it's about this great basketball story, which it is, but it also holds a mirror up to American society in the 1980s."

⇓ Article continues below ⇓

Candis, 38, said that he's been waiting a long time to tell this story. The film opens up showing the 1968 riots in Baltimore following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and chronicles the triumphant journey of the Dunbar High School boys basketball team, who went undefeated for 59 straight games between 1981 and 1983. Even more impressive, 11 of the players joined a Division I program and four of those—David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, and Reggie Lewis—were drafted into the NBA.

"This is really my love letter to the city," Candis said. "Growing up, we didn't have to look to Michael Jordan. We had the Poets right in our own backyard."

Wrangling up former players, family, and supporters of the team presented quite a few challenges, as did finding quality archive footage since the early '80s was right on the cusp of the handheld video camera. Luckily, two other local filmmakers, Tommy Polley and David Manigault, made a Poets documentary a few years back and had already scoured East Coast news stations to find footage.

"There would be so many moments that people would describe to me or remember in their heads," Candis said. "But trying to match up and find that footage was a challenging scavenger hunt."

Shot over a five-month period last year, Baltimore Boys provides some behind the scenes moments from players like Bogues ("he reached genius on the hardwood," Candis said) to Dunbar coach Bob Wade, who was instrumental in not only coaching, but nurturing his team. At one point, Wade reveals in the documentary that, because his team didn't have a proper facility or weights, he drove around Baltimore City collecting bricks and had his team practice running with them. 

"You better believe that's why they were the most well-conditioned team in the fourth quarter," Candis said. "One man's junk became another man's treasure."

As a filmmaker, Candis admits that seeing Coach Wade get emotional during an interview was a highlight for him. The moment comes when he's talking about having the Dunbar court dedicated to him and he started thinking about every player he coached, fathered, and protected during those years. 

"It's Bob Wade who is the unsung hero that everyone should really rally behind," Candis said. "I am just some kid from Park Heights that has been lucky enough to share this story with a wider national audience. It's about time."

Meet The Author
Jess Mayhugh is the digital editor for Baltimore, where she covers nightlife, sports, food, and events.

You May Also Like

Ravens Watch

How Will Trey Mancini Fare in the Rookie of the Year Voting?

And other top news from Baltimore sports this week.

The Birds Nest

Summit of the Boogs

And other top news in Baltimore sports this week.

The Birds Nest

Boog’s BBQ: 25 Years and Still Cookin’

The beloved first baseman’s BBQ stand has been a hit since the first Opening Day at Camden Yards in 1992.

Ravens Watch

Jacoby Jones Retires a Raven...Not a Steeler

And other top news from Baltimore sports this week.

The Chatter

Why America is Dead Wrong About Football

Let's settle this whole football/soccer thing once and for all.


Laces Up

As summer winds down, prepare to work up one last outdoor sweat with a bevy of races to run.

Connect With Us

Most Read

Small Print
Local brand Worthy Threads puts the cool back in kids clothing.

Meeting of the Minds
Now in its sixth year, Baltimore Innovation Week continues to push the city’s tech scene forward.

Home Cooking
Mera Kitchen Collective gives immigrants and refugees platform to cook.

Photographer Steve Parke Talks About Chronicling Prince
The Baltimore artist captures The Purple One in new book.

Our Picks for the Best Fall Arts Events
The fall creative calendar is bursting with concerts, exhibits, and theatrical happenings.