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‘Tin Can Man’ premiere to be ‘night of celebration’ for Bearcat Nation

Keith Dunnavent Keith Dunnavent

Always on the hunt for sports stories with drama, spirit and a moral, Keith Dunnavant instantly connected to Hendersonville High School’s 1972 state basketball champion season.

An author of biographies on sports legends Paul “Bear” Bryant, Bart Starr and Joe Montana, guest commentator on ESPN and the SEC network and documentary film-maker, Dunnavant felt intuitively that the Bearcat story would be worthy of his “Prep Legends” series. His 30-minute documentary, “The Tin Can Man,” premieres Friday, Aug. 5, at Hendersonville High School’s freshly renovated auditorium.
“First of all, the fact that they’re an underdog team on two levels,” he said when asked what attracted him to the '72 championship season. “They voluntarily moved up from 2-A to 3-A, which is a big deal, and also the fact that they were a pretty small team compared to a lot of those guys, including Pinecrest, which just towered over them in that championship game.
“And then of course, the thing that makes it culturally relevant is that this coincides with when Coach (Jim) Pardue started four African-Americans for the first time at a time — when you kind of peel back the onion on this — it just was a natural transition I think for the town.”
Desegregation happened with less conflict in Hendersonville than in many small towns in the South. City schools had integrated in 1965, so black and white kids had adapted to classwork and play together.
“By the time these guys, once they were seniors in ‘71-72, they had come through integration together, and so this just seemed natural by the time they all got together on this great basketball team,” Dunnavant said. The underdog team “creates this milestone moment in the cultural integration of the community, which we were seeing reflected all across the South at that point.”
Dunnavant interviewed around 12 people, “including members of the team, a few fans, people connected to the program,” in a series of visits that soaked the sports historian and crew in the spirit of the Bearcat Nation.
“The entire community and the entire school just welcomed us with open arms and helped us with anything we needed,” he said. “We had members of the current basketball team help us out with some reenactments, so they’re involved. … I can absolutely see what a special school it is. The reason that I’m doing stories like this is because I believe in the power of small towns and their teams. I grew up in a small town in Alabama myself, and know what it could mean to a community to have a great team” that connects with townspeople “on a very personal level. I’m not coming in as someone who has read about that. I’ve felt it in my life. So when I come to a town like Hendersonville I absolutely see what a special place it is.”
The producer, director and writer of “Tin Can Man,” Dunnavant credits cinemaphotographer Jonathan Hickman for his skill and devotion to filming and editing the documentary.
“This is a night of celebration for the whole community, and we want everybody to come out and celebrate, first of all, by helping us raise some money for the Boys and Girls Club, which is a great cause, and come out and celebrate,” the filmmaker said. “I really have gotten to like Hendersonville an awful lot. It’s a charming town, and I feel a kinship with your community. When the credits roll, I want them to feel like they’ve taken a trip back in time, to understand and feel what a special team this was and how much it meant to the community and to be proud of what that team meant to Hendersonville and what it still means.”

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The premiere of “Tin Can Man” doubles as a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club and an unveiling of sorts of the renovated HHS auditorium. Tickets are $50 each and will include light refreshments at a pre-film reception, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with the film screening at 7:30 p.m. After the film, Dunnavant will moderate a question and answer session with members of the team. Presenting sponsors are Fazio Golf Design, Hunter Subaru, Morrow Insurance, Triangle Stop Food Stores, and Vista Strategies. To purchase tickets visit or call 828-693-9444.