Sports

Documentary follows Olympian and former Kentlake, UW volleyball star

Courtney Thompson, a former Kentlake and UW star, was a part of Team USA
Courtney Thompson, a former Kentlake and UW star, was a part of Team USA's silver medal-winning performance at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. Thompson, who is playing professionally in Europe, is the subject of a documentary.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Courtney Thompson has that intangible "it" factor that allows her to make those around her better, a quality that Seattle documentary producers Jack and Leslie Hamann believe comes through in the hour-long film they made about the Kentlake graduate's life in 2013.

Thompson, who won three state volleyball titles at Kentlake as well as a national championship with the University of Washington, is the focus of the documentary "Court & Spark," filmed months after she was part of the American women's volleyball team, which earned a silver medal at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

As officials from the Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball prepared in 2012 for the NCAA Division I Final Four in Seattle in December, they approached the Hamanns about making a documentary as part of the event. Jack Hamann explained that it's been nearly 20 years since Seattle hosted an NCAA Final Four in any sport so this was particularly important. And it was also the site of the American Volleyball Coaches Association's annual conference.

"The folks from Puget Sound Regional volleyball asked to meet with us and asked how we could go about doing a documentary," Hamann said. "We said to them, 'Immediately perhaps in our community the single greatest example is Courtney Thompson. We said to them, "Gosh if you really want to tell a story of volleyball you really have to see if Courtney is interested.'"

Hamann said that he and his wife explained that a film like this would need a central figure with a compelling story. Thompson seemed the perfect fit to be the focus of a documentary and the Hamanns first met her when she was 12.

Shortly after that the Hamanns met with Thompson not long after she returned from the London games. Hamann said they were interested in exploring why she chose volleyball and what that meant for her path in life.

"Courtney being Courtney said, 'Yep, you bet,'" Hamann said. "In an important moment, she turned to us and said, 'If you're really going to do this, you have to see what life is like for those of us who play overseas.' Volleyball is a huge sport just about everywhere but here."

At the time, Thompson was preparing to play professionally in Poland.

"She said, 'If you guys are going to come, you have to come in February,'" Hamann said. "Because in February, that's when the rubber meets the road. That's really the essence of what it's really like, the good, the bad and the ugly of this lifestyle."

Focus of the film

In February 2013, Leslie and John Hamann, along with their son Brett, headed to Poland. This is the focus of the first half of the film. The second half follows Thompson with the national team during training in California.

"They spend eight months out of the year playing overseas," Hamann said. "Then they spend three months with the national team. Then they get a month off. It's a brutal lifestyle."

Hamann explained that the documentary, which he described as a journalistic piece and not an hour of reality television, shows what Thompson has experienced and how she has overcome challenges while still giving back to youth volleyball players wherever she goes and staying connected to her family as well as her roots in Kent and Covington.

"She put herself at a bit of a risk," Hamann said of Thompson's commitment to the documentary. "The only feedback that our client gave us ... was to make sure there were no factual errors. I think it made it a far more satisfying piece. Courtney has got the ability to have this stunning amount of empathy for what human beings go through in the little things in life as well as the big challenges in life."

In addition to following Thompson in 2013, the Hammans interviewed Karch Kiraly, who is a legend in American volleyball as well as Thompson's national team coach. Other interviews include Hugh McCutcheon, Doug Beal, John Dunning, Kathy DeBoer and John Cook, to name a few.

Hamann said that they shot more than 100 hours of video between shooting in Poland in February and California in May before spending September, October and November editing. The documentary was premiered Dec. 20 at the AVCA convention. Thompson took a few days away from her team in Poland to come back for that, Hamann said, spending about 24 hours traveling from Europe to Seattle.

'Major undertaking'

The Hamanns also spent months researching as part of the process while helping PSRVB fundraise to cover the costs of the film. Hamann said they received considerable financial support from the Floyd and Delores Jones Foundation.

"It was a major undertaking," Hamann said. "It was a lot of work."

Even coming up with the name early on for marketing was tricky.

Court & Spark is the name of a 1974 Joni Mitchell album.

"Every team needs a court," Hamann said. "And every team needs a spark. The spark part is (Courtney). Every one of her teammates say that."

Hamann said the feedback they have received, particularly from young women who have seen the documentary, has been good.

"We've heard this from people who have seen the film, if you are a young girl 12 to 18, but we've heard this from college-aged women and they say she says things they are feeling in their heart," Hamann said. "It's a message, whether or not you're a jock, that any of us can take inspiration from."

In the end, Hamann said, the documentary has a message and a purpose.

He said that they put together a budget for the film, told PSRVB officials what they needed to raise, then said that when it came time to sell "Court & Spark" on DVD, 100 percent of the proceeds would go to PSRVB, which is a nonprofit. Anyone who buys the CD, which costs $24.99, will know that money is going back into the sport here in the region.

But it is more than a documentary about Thompson.

"This is a really unusual opportunity for parents of players of any sport to watch and use it afterward as a conversation starter," Hamann said. "Once you've seen this and you see the way Courtney dealt with some of these things ... we're hoping it's the sort of thing that people will all sit down with their team and talk about this. It's right at the heart of what a lot of parents will see and feel. That's what we had hoped to do and we have heard that is what it has accomplished."

To purchase the DVD log on to psrvb.org/documentary.

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