Billy Dunn had been to many Jacksonville State softball games since enrolling at the school, and every time he went, he couldn’t help noticing all the references to former JSU pitcher Tera Ross.
Her name was memorialized on the scoreboard. Her number was attached to the outfield fence. A poster-sized picture of her in full delivery hung on the outside wall of the old press box above the Gamecocks dugout.
Dunn saw them all the time, but he never really knew who this pitcher was or why she had such a profound and continuing impact 10 years removed from the program. So, when it came time to do a documentary for his advanced video editing class this semester, he knew exactly the subject to pick.
Now, the junior from Southside and project partners Brad McGuire and Robert Pearson are engaged fully in a film McGuire says has gone “way beyond a class project.”
“Being a sports guy, I wanted to do a sports story and I wanted to do something that wasn’t a rah-rah — a real story,” said Dunn, who co-hosts a sports talk show with McGuire on the campus radio station. “We got to talking about it at the station. I read a couple articles and thought it was great and decided to go from there.
“I knew just from talking to people in general she was a great person, and since she had passed, people would say that. But since doing this (we’ve discovered) she was truly, truly a model citizen, great person, great student. ... Tera was such a great person and such a great story, it should be told.”
It is believed to be the first time anyone has documented Ross’ story on film.
Before the project, all McGuire knew about Ross was “she was a JSU strikeout leader,” but the junior from Glencoe has come to discover so much more.
Ross was headed for a likely decorated senior year when she died in 2003. The SUV she was driving home for the Christmas holidays crashed into a freight truck carrying military explosives on the Florida Turnpike. She was 22. Her brother, Zachary, and JSU softball teammate Kerry Raw survived the crash.
The previous spring Tera had a breakout year, posting a 1.17 earned run average that remains one of the best single-season marks in school history. She still remains in the top five in JSU career innings (410), wins (37) and starts (60). She had 315 career strikeouts.
In addition to her athletic achievement, Ross often volunteered with various student service organizations. One of Dunn’s favorite stories recalls the time Ross called JSU softball coach Jana McGinnis to say she was going to be late for some team activity — she was baking brownies for an elderly couple’s upcoming nuptuals.
“The more and more we’ve been covering the story and the more and more people we’ve been meeting, the more we want to meet her,” said McGuire, who admitted tearing up at times during the interviews. “It’s amazing how much you missed out (on not) knowing her. It’s great how sweet she was off the field and how intimidating she was on it.”
The documentary does not have a title yet, but the partners are considering “Go Hard.” It’s an expression Ross’ father used to tell her and an inscription that had been etched into her glove.
McGinnis was on board with the project “all the way” from the start. She gave the budding filmmakers ideas on how to tell their story, made herself and her coaches available for interviews and even helped arrange the delicate interviews with Tera’s parents, Terry and Jami, both of whom have remained ardent supporters of the program.
“Our players here remember Tera and know Tera,” McGinnis said. “I feel like it’s our job to keep her legacy going. She represented everything we wanted a Jax State player to represent. It was very important to us to keep her name, keep her legacy, going. I think it’s great they’re doing this.”
McGinnis told the students in their first meeting they would have no trouble whatsoever coming up with information to fill their frames. She was right.
The projects are required to be only 10 minutes in length, but there’s an option to go longer if it contained quality content. Good thing. At this point, the Ross team has come up with more than two hours of footage and interviews — and have more to shoot. Now, they’re looking at a 30-minute film.
The project is due April 25, and when completed, it will be shown during an in-class film festival before the final exam.
Their biggest challenge now is trying to decide what to leave out.
“I’m nervous because the video editing, we could still mess it up there,” Dunn said. “After we started, I thought 10 or 15 minutes probably wasn’t going to be enough. I want to get the full story and not to go the 15 minutes just for the sake of having a good grade.”
At this point, the grade is secondary.
“I could make an ‘F’ in that class, but if the parents, the coaches and other people like it, I’m fine with that,” Dunn said. “This started out as a class project and now it’s so much more. I’d rather it be a success out of class than in class, honestly.”
Added McGuire: “We want this to have meaning. We want this to be the best documentary for her. Let’s make it the best for Tera. It’s not a class project anymore. We went into it trying to get an ‘A,’ now it’s turned into something incredible.”