Judy Willman, the daughter of Joe Rantz, is interviewed by Danika Chen, a 2023 Sequim graduate, in the Sequim High School Auditorium on Friday about elements of “The Boys in the Boat” film and how her father is portrayed. Willman said her dad would not want attention but would be OK with it if it supported causes such as restoring the historic ASUW Shell House and building a homeless youth house in Sequim. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Judy Willman, the daughter of Joe Rantz, is interviewed by Danika Chen, a 2023 Sequim graduate, in the Sequim High School Auditorium on Friday about elements of “The Boys in the Boat” film and how her father is portrayed. Willman said her dad would not want attention but would be OK with it if it supported causes such as restoring the historic ASUW Shell House and building a homeless youth house in Sequim. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Students share in ‘The Boys in the Boat’ excitement

Momentum builds for Sequim homeless youth house

SEQUIM — Some of the biggest fans of “The Boys in the Boat” book received the Hollywood experience and early looks at the upcoming film adaptation.

On Thursday, 45 Sequim High School Interact Club students and school officials attended a screening of “The Boys in the Boat” in Seattle with filmmaker George Clooney in attendance along with Gov. Jay Inslee, philanthropist Melinda French Gates and Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.

The following evening, more students, dignitaries and community members attended an advance screening of the film at Deer Park Cinema in Port Angeles.

Amazon MGM Studios invited students to the Seattle screening and provided the Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club with a courtesy screening of “The Boys in the Boat” in response to a TikTok video made by Sequim High School Interact Club members via the Rotary.

Julia Jack, a 2023 Sequim High graduate involved with the video, returned from studying at California Polytechnic State University for the showings and said she felt “astonished” through it all.

“It was insane,” she said. “(Clooney) walked by and waved, and Ruby (Coulson, another 2023 Sequim High graduate studying at Stanford) and I just looked at each other in amazement.

“He told us to save him some popcorn.”

Ayden Humphries, also a 2023 Sequim High graduate and now a Gonzaga University student, called the experiences a blessing, including meeting and shaking Clooney’s hand.

“He told us, ‘Oh, it was you guys who put all the pressure on me,’” he said.

Humphries added, “It’s not something a lot of people get to do in a lifetime.”

The film, based on the book by Daniel James Brown, tells of the University of Washington rowing team’s journey to earn the gold medal while representing the United States at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Joe Rantz, a member of the team, attended Sequim High School while struggling with homelessness after he was abandoned by his father and stepmother. He eventually moved to Seattle, graduated from Roosevelt High and earned an engineering degree at UW.

Amazon MGM Studios rented out Deer Park Cinema for showings of “The Boys in the Boat” on multiple screens for local students and community members on Friday.

Fundraiser

Rotary members used the special screening as a precursor for their Tribute to Joe Rantz event at the Sequim Museum and Arts to support the Joe Rantz Rotary Youth Fund to build a home for homeless teens.

Organizer and Rotarian Pat McCauley said the event was a success, and the club will continue pursuing money for the Joe Rantz House.

“There should not be any homeless youth in Sequim,” she said.

To donate, or for more about the project, see joerantzrotaryyouthfund.org.

Studio officials noted that “neither MGM, its affiliates, nor anyone connected with the film is involved in any of the Joe Rantz Rotary Club’s fundraising efforts.”

Prior to the Port Angeles screening, about 50 Sequim Boys & Girls Club members and Interact Club members met in the Sequim High School auditorium to hear a brief interview between Danika Chen, a 2023 graduate, and Rantz’s daughter, Judy Willman, about the movie.

Among the things Willman noted, she said her father’s upbringing was alluded to in the movie and “what made him such an incredible person was his ability to overcome.”

On the attention and accolades he’d receive if still alive, Willman said Rantz would not have been enthusiastic about any personal recognition, but efforts to restore the historic ASUW Shell House and build the homeless youth house in Sequim would have been worth it.

After the question-and-answer session, students, staff and community members rode on school buses to the cinema and joined about 30 Port Angeles Boys & Girls Club students for the screening.

Popcorn and drinks were provided by Amazon MGM Studios with one Sequim Boys & Girls Club member saying, “It’s cool we get to see it before everyone else.”

Reactions

Students and adults alike shared that they loved the movie and the whole experience.

Krista Charters, a Sequim High senior and current president of the Interact Club, said she’s read the book four times and saw the movie in back-to-back nights.

“And I’d see it again,” she said.

For her and others, it felt personal as Rantz was from Sequim, her mom went to school there and her grandparents live on Sequim Bay and went to UW, too.

Lili Mitchell, also a Sequim High senior and Interact Club member, said she felt a sense of pride as her family also graduated from Sequim High School.

During the first screening, she had a surreal moment where she asked herself, “How did we get here?”

Chen, who flew in from Queen Mary University of London for the screenings, just missed the red carpet walk in Seattle but was able to see the film and said she really enjoyed it.

She understands the film was adapted for a larger audience and took some liberties but is grateful that it “highlights someone from our town and how he overcame adversity.”

Boys & Girls Club members interviewed said they’ve read the book and enjoyed the movie.

“I thought the movie overall was great,” said Phillip McIntyre of Sequim.

“The book portrayed a lot more details and the full scale of (Rantz’s life), but for a movie, they got a lot in.”

Sequim’s Olivia Ostlund, a club member since kindergarten, liked the movie and wished there were more details of Rantz’s early life. Her favorite part of the movie was the climactic ending at the Olympics.

Fellow Sequim teen Sabrina Herbelin said she particularly liked how the movie captured the teamwork of the UW squad and how it focused on their personalities. She liked the first race of the movie the best.

At the end of one screening, students, chaperones and community members erupted for loud applause.

Fundraising continues

Interact Club members are looking to continue fundraising efforts for the Rotary’s homeless youth house with a “Row for Joe” event tentatively set for March 2024.

Charters said they’ll seek sponsors of students and other rowers to go 2 miles on kayaks, paddle boats and by other means across Sequim Bay from John Wayne Marina and back.

More details will be made available in the coming months, organizers said.

Interact Club adviser Chelsea Reichner said students have worked with the Rotary to do backpack and blanket drives in recent years, and they were asked after the COVID-19 pandemic to help bring some momentum back to the Joe Rantz House project, hence the TikTok video.

Chen said they didn’t expect anything to happen from the video, but “we’re so grateful that it did.”

The Interact Club and Rotarians connected with Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures production partner Grant Heslov, and they and school officials have been working on logistics for the screening for months.

For logistical reasons, the venue changed from Sequim High School to Deer Park Cinemas, organizers said.

Amazon MGM officials said prior to the Willman Q&A that the TikTok video is what brought the screening to the area.

Seeing “The Boys in the Boat” will hopefully give local students some perspective on life, Sequim schools superintendent Regan Nickels said at Friday’s screening.

“The movie was beautiful and inspiring,” she said. “I appreciate the references to Sequim. It helps the students to connect (with the story). The messages resonate with them. That’s what’s next in their lives.

“(And) the students got their day in the sun.”

Reichner said in the spirit of the UW 1936 crew team that she feels it’s been a club effort to get where they are now.

“It’s a unity of one working together,” she said. “TikTok brought the fame, and the magic is in the interconnectedness.”

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at matthew.nash@sequimgazette.com.

Sequim schools Superintendent Regan Nickels introduces past Interact Club members, from left, Ayden Humphries, Danika Chen and Ruby Coulson, who helped bring a screening of “The Boys in the Boat” to the area weeks before its release. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim schools Superintendent Regan Nickels introduces past Interact Club members, from left, Ayden Humphries, Danika Chen and Ruby Coulson, who helped bring a screening of “The Boys in the Boat” to the area weeks before its release. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

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