Ava Hawthorne’s life took an unexpected turn at the end of last summer.
Just as she was beginning her sophomore year at Gilbert and anxiously awaiting the start of basketball season a couple months later, Hawthorne was informed by her mother that there was a casting call for an independent film about the final season of six-on-six basketball in Iowa.
Hawthorne’s mother, Amy (Bryant) Hawthorne, grandmother, Becky (Roland) Bryant, and great grandmother, Dorthy (Carver) Bryant, all grew up playing six-on-six basketball.
“I’ve heard a lot about it from stories they told at Thanksgiving or family Christmases,” Hawthorne said. “They said how much they enjoyed it and how impacted the community was. The gyms were always jam-packed.”
So even with no previous acting credentials - her only experience on stage was as a background dancer for a play in middle school - she jumped at the chance.
The casting call took place in Iowa Falls on August 31st. Hawthorne got there and saw they were auditioning for the role of the lead basketball player in the film, titled New Providence.
“I had nothing to lose, so I might as well just try it,” Hawthorne said. “I took that leap of faith and they offered me the part.”
Hawthorne takes the role of Laney Mitchell, a talented player on a fictional version of the 1993 New Providence girls’ basketball team.
The movie is a fictional story of the final year of six-on-six girls’ basketball in Iowa. It is seen through the eyes of Jimmy Voss, a superstar, but controversial sports magazine writer from New York City, played by Kurt Oberhaus.
Voss was sent by his publisher to cover the final season, which brings him to New Providence. There he is brought together with Mitchell, her father ‘Junior’ played by James Serpento, and legendary six-on-six player ‘Cat’ - played by Kim Grimaldi in a heartwarming tale of small town America at the end of a beloved, nearly 100-year-old basketball tradition that still reverberates trough the hearts of many.
New Providence is directed by Thor Moreno. Annette Duffy is the line producer.
It is produced by New Providence Films based out of Morro Bay, Calif. and the production company is Fearless Cinema out of Des Moines.
The movie was filmed in Des Moines, Hubbard and New Providence. Filming began on Jan. 17 and wrapped up last Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to sharing the story of what six-on-six meant to the small towns and to the state of Iowa,” New Providence producer Jack Smith said.
Six-on-six has meant quite a lot to Hawthorne’s family.
Her great grandmother played in the state tournament back in 1925 for Grand Meadow High School. Becky played for Alden and saw action in the New Providence Roundhouse gym that is in the movie and Amy played for Aurelia in 1991.
“When they told me they were going to give me the part it just kind of hit me - oh my gosh, I’m doing this for my great grandma, I’m doing this for my grandma, I’m doing this for my mom,” Hawthorne said. “I’m doing this for all the girls that played 6-on-6 and all the legends. That was really crazy to me.”
Amy, Becky and their husbands (Greg and Bob) got to be part of the film as extras cheering in the crowd during games.
“When the girls took the court at The Roundhouse it was like a step back in time,” Amy said. “It was a thrill for the crowd to watch the old game come to life once again. The crowd of extras was flooded with memories of six-on-six games of the past and was on their feet cheering.”
“I grew up an Iowa farm girl and it was a full circle moment for me to be in the stands with my parents and husband and watch Ava play a version of the game that we all cherish,” Amy said. “I can’t wait to see the final product and I’m so proud of my daughter for being an Iowa girl and playing a role in this film.”
Hawthorne did admit that she and the rest of the basketball girls had a little trouble adjusting to six-on-six rules at the start of filming.
“Obviously you have to change your game from five-on-five to six-on-six,” Hawthorne said. “You only get two dribbles, which was kind of mind-blowing at first. But you get used to it.”
It also took a little time getting used to the early 1990s uniforms and shoes, as Molly Ihle - one of Hawthorne’s teammates on the New Providence team in the movie - found out.
“The first time I walked out with the shoes I tripped,” Ihle said. “They were old-fashioned shoes with long toes so I just ate it.”
Ihle is a junior at Ballard. She is one of several area girls’ basketball players that were chosen to participate as extras in New Providence.
“It was an awesome experience,” Ihle said. “I’ll probably never get to do something like that in my life again.”
Ames junior Ashley Iiams played for Hubbard-Radcliffe in the film.
“I never saw myself getting into the whole acting world,” Iiams said, “but shooting the movie was really fun and a great experience.”
Roland-Story sophomore Reagan Barkema played for Wapsie Valley.
“It was a great opportunity that not a lot of people get to experience,” Barkema said. “It was really cool to learn about the history of six-on-six basketball in Iowa.”
Ballard sophomore Brooke Loewe was also part of the Wapsie Valley team.
“I thought it was really fun to play the game since I had never played in a six-on-six game before,” Loewe said. “It was an awesome experience and I am glad I got to be a part of it.”
Three of Hawthorne’s teammates at Gilbert - Emma Bulman, Ellie Bulman and Katie Currans - partook in the action.
“The first week of filming I was playing for the Hubbard team against Ava’s team,” Currans said. “It was mostly fun to just kind of relive what basketball used to be.”
The level the girls competed at over the three weekends impressed Smith.
“I jokingly told people I hadn’t been sleeping well because I was afraid of how real the basketball would look,” Smith said. “Once I saw them play my mind was at ease.”
The basketball part came easy for Hawthorne. It was acting off the court where she had to go out of her comfort zone.
“I couldn’t have basketball by my side to help me,” Hawthorne said. “But it was also a ton of fun. The actors helped me so much and Thor was so nice. When I had to tweak something he wouldn’t yell at me, he’d just say try this or do this. It was just an amazing opportunity that I got to have.”
Currans said Hawthorne is a natural in front of the camera.
“She’s super charismatic,” Currans said. “She was just perfect for the role.”
Smith had a similar reaction.
“There were scenes where she had to act,” Smith said. “She does a very good job.”
Hawthorne said her time on the basketball court helped prepare her for the challenge.
“Thor said I know I’m putting a lot of pressure on you and I’m so sorry, but I told him that’s what I do,” Hawthorne said. “Pressure is a privilege. I play under pressure in basketball games all the time. I’m used to it.”
She isn’t ruling out acting again.
“If there is another opportunity I might as well take it,” Hawthorne said. “But right now I’m just focusing on basketball and I’m very excited for the movie to come out.”
New Providence premieres in Des Moines during the week of the girls’ state basketball tournament, which is held March 2-7.