Fond memories of a once popular sport among Brooklynites are what local filmmaker Jason Cusato attempted to convey to audiences when he shot “When Broomsticks were Kings,” an award-winning documentary/mockumentary based on the game of stickball.
The 27-minute short retells the story of Cusato’s father, other family members and locals playing the game they adored all day during the 1940s and 1950s and why it meant so much to them.
“I grew up playing stickball,” said Cusato, who will turn 40 this year. “But my father’s generation really played it a lot in Brooklyn. He always told me stories of him and his teams playing in different neighborhoods.”
It was because of his family’s recollections, and his own familiarity with the sport, that the director decided to tackle the project. “When I went to film school, teachers always said to make and write something that you know about. I gravitated to stickball. I had passion for it,” he said. “My inspiration was how much fun they had. It was their life. It meant so much to beat the other guys. It was bragging rights.”
Cusato interviewed his father, uncle and others about their stickball memories. The stories told in the doc are authentic, while some of the characters are fictional. “Once I made the documentary, things took off for that,” he said.
An earlier version of the film was released in 2001, but Cusato wasn’t satisfied with it. Though he was working on different projects, he recut it. In 2006, the film started to run in various festivals and won several awards, and was declared winner of the Rochester International Film Festival in 2007, Best Short Doc at the Wildwood by the Sea Festival and an official selection during 2007’s Coney Island Film Festival.
This past July, Cusato’s father and teammates were inducted in the Stickball Hall of Fame, located at Harlem. In addition, the documentary recently received a distribution deal with Brooklyn on Demand, a video-on-demand platform that can be accessed via computer, smartphone and TV hookup with popular services such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku.
“It makes me very proud and it shows that the subject matter is still interesting to people,” Cusato said. “Once they see the film, they understand what the sport is all about. It’s not just about playing stickball on the street. This is what guys live for every day. Every pitch was so important. It was ingrained in you. To them, it was like it happened yesterday.”
Unfortunately for stickball lovers, the once popular sport has seen fewer players over the years, though Cusato’s dad and friends play at least twice a year
“For kids growing up today, there’s so much going on with computers and technology, it’s a lost sport. There are very few kids playing street sports. That’s why stickball is dying,” Cusato said. “Hopefully (the short) does bring interest to the sport. They’ll watch film and understand how much love and passion it provides..”
For more information or to view “When Broomsticks were Kings,” visit www.jaycusato.com or