The most compelling sports stories sometimes have little to do with actual sports.
That’s the case with “Beyond the Boardwalk,” a documentary directed by Matt Jablow. On the surface, the documentary is about two former Long Island high school sports stars, but the underlying themes deal with much more.
“It’s about redemption, it’s about forgiveness and it’s about brotherhood,” Jablow said during a recent interview.
The piece chronicles the unlikely relationship between Jermaine Ewell, a black former star running back at Lawrence High School, and Shannon Siegel, a white former baseball star at the school. Siegel, then age 20, was sentenced to 7-to-21 years for beating Ewell, then 17, nearly to death with a baseball bat on the Atlantic Beach boardwalk after a party on June 1, 1991. The attack led to racially charged marches along the boardwalk, though Ewell refused to lend his support to them.
Siegel developed remorse for his actions while in a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. With the help of his mother, who convinced Ewell to make the six-hour trip with her to Clinton Correctional Facility, Siegel apologized. Ewell eventually forgave Siegel, a decision which Ewell said aided his own healing process.
It was then that Siegel’s road to redemption began – and the bond between he and Ewell started to grow. After being released from prison in 2005 – thanks to letters from Ewell to the parole board – Siegel coached a youth baseball team, helped other at-risk kids, went to a Mets game with Ewell and expressed interest in speaking at schools alongside Ewell about their story.
Siegel was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014. Ewell visited him several times in the hospital and helped him any way he could outside of it, even allowing Siegel to use the sauna at the gym Ewell worked at to help him feel better. Siegel died Aug. 3, 2015.
“It wasn’t just a simple ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ ‘Oh, I forgive you,’ and move on, that’s the end of it,” Jablow said. “Shannon really lived that life of redemption, and Jermaine lived a life of forgiveness.”
Jablow followed the story since it first broke. He got the idea to do the documentary shortly after Siegel fell ill and already had most of the reporting done.
“It was never enough, and it never was all together,” Jablow said of having all the separate pieces for the documentary. “I felt people needed to see the whole thing all at once to really grasp just how profound this story is.”
Jablow finished editing the documentary in January, but in light of recent race-related tensions and demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, he said the timing of the piece’s release, while coincidental, could prove beneficial.
Said Jablow: “A lot of people could learn from Shannon and Jermaine about dealing with that.”