Students gain filmmaking experience by documenting baseball history

October 07, 2022
roche filming

John Weglarz operates a video camera during an interview with former Detroit Tiger Ike Blessitt while working on a documentary about historic Hamtramck Stadium.Students in University of Detroit Mercy’s Communications Studies program have honed their filmmaking skills by telling the stories of local baseball history for a new documentary. 

Victoria Taylor ’21, senior John Weglarz and other College of Liberal Arts & Education students assisted Associate Professor Jason Roche with the production of his latest documentary, which will focus on Hamtramck Stadium, the volunteer grounds crew helping maintain the historic stadium and the city’s Negro League baseball legacy. 

Once home to the Negro League’s Detroit Stars in the 1930s before Major League Baseball integrated, Hamtramck Stadium has been revitalized thanks to a recently completed $2.6-million renovation. It is only one of five Negro League stadiums still standing. 

Roche’s 2013 documentary, Stealing Home, focused on the team of volunteers who renovated and maintained the baseball field at the site of Tiger Stadium after its demolition in 2009. Now known as the Hamtramck Stadium Grounds Crew, the group moved to the small Wayne County city in 2017 to continue its revitalization efforts. Roche’s new film is funded by a grant from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council

“Since we moved to Hamtramck, there’s just so much more exciting history to follow,” Roche said. “I’ve learned so much, and we’ve met so many amazing people.” 

Students who have interned with Roche on the project gained real-world experience filming, photographing and interviewing, while using an array of cameras, drones and other equipment. 

“They get experience of seeing what goes into planning and then shooting a documentary,” Roche said. “They get to understand what it’s like to set up for interviews, prepare questions and think of different angles to cover when you’re putting together a story. It’s a real-world resume builder.” 

Vicki Taylor ’21 and John Weglarz prepare to shoot video footage while working on a documentary about historic Hamtramck Stadium.The experience at Hamtramck Stadium was much more than capturing footage and conducting interviews for Taylor, who now works as a web content coordinator for Detroit Mercy’s Office of Marketing & Communications. 

“I learned so much not only about videography, but about the city of Hamtramck and the history of the Negro Leagues,” she said. “That experience really made me fall in love with that city and its culture — it’s unlike anyplace I’ve ever been to before and it’s literally just down the street from where I live. 

“The history of the Negro Leagues was so inspiring, and that kept me wanting to learn more and more.” 

Weglarz was drawn to work on the documentary to see a historic stadium and become more experienced flying a drone. The Communications Studies and Cybersecurity double major filmed aerial shots of Hamtramck Stadium, recorded baseball games on the field and interviewed a number of people. 

“This was a fabulous opportunity for me as a student,” Weglarz said. “It was very worthwhile to get footage of a historic stadium and see it get renovated.” 

While working on the documentary helped Taylor sharpen her digital media skills, the people she met during the internship left a lasting impression on her. 

“Learning on fancy equipment or mastering editing techniques on the newest technology, while great, are just things I picked up along the way. But the intrinsic motivation to tell a story about people who deserve recognition, that’s what makes these opportunities stay with me,” Taylor said. “Having access to different connections to learn in a way that doesn’t feel like school makes this curriculum stand out.” 

As an educator, Roche relished watching his students apply classroom concepts to help with his latest documentary. 

“I think for any educator, the greatest reward we have is to watch our students grasp what it is we’re teaching, grasp that material and take ownership of it,” he said. “To be able to have them help me on one of my own projects, and to watch those same light bulbs turn on in their head, I know it’s cliché, but it’s special.” 

Roche is continuing to film and edit the documentary and hopes to release it next fall. Detroit Mercy students who are interested in assisting Roche on the documentary can contact him by email at 

— By Ricky Lindsay. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.