‘Touchdown Newport’ premieres Tuesday night

Documentary film
Tony Horvath, left, and Randy Hamilton talk about their documentary film “Touchdown Newport” in 2011. The film premieres at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Tuesday.

Randy Hamilton, the director of the high school football documentary “Touchdown Newport,” hopes the movie becomes popular nationwide after its premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

That desire may sound lofty, but Hamilton has seen the seemingly improbable become reality while working on the film about the Newport Harbor High School 1970 football team over the past three years.

On a whim, the Newport Beach resident reached out to Emmy-award winning actor Kyle Chandler to be the narrator of the documentary. It made sense. Chandler was the quintessential coach, Eric Taylor, in the highly regarded TV show “Friday Night Lights.”

Chandler responded that he’d be on board and became the narrator. He’s been invited to the screening at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Lido Theatre, but probably won’t attend because of acting commitments, Hamilton said.


Hamilton and “Touchdown Newport” producer Tony Horvath, who both played on the Sailors’ 1970 football team, found it challenging to gather vintage game film, photos and newspaper clippings from that year. But that too became reality.

The community has provided tremendous support for the documentary, Hamilton said. A Newport Harbor cheerleader from 1970 sent Hamilton an email that said she was proud to cheer for the team back then and proud to cheer for the boys again.

Another cheerleader from that year, Teri Kahan, stars in the film and offers her perspective from that era and of the team. She has since passed away from cancer some time after being interviewed for the documentary, Hamilton said.

The cheerleaders had plenty to be excited about in 1970. The Sailors’ football team became a contender after 28 years of essentially being a doormat.


The central figure of the documentary, coach Ernie Johnson, turned around the program in his first and only year at Newport Harbor. Hamilton said the legendary coach transformed the Newport Harbor boys into men and led the Sailors to a league title. The league championship, shared with Anaheim, was the first for Newport Harbor since 1942.

Newport Harbor’s game against Anaheim is one of the high points of the movie. The game featured two of the greatest coaches of that era, Johnson and Clare Van Hoorebeke.

Johnson and other players from the 1970 team talk about the game in the movie with great delight. They also deliver jokes and descriptions of that era, as well as what it took to change the losing culture at Newport Harbor.

Johnson attended a private screening at Lido in September and plans to be there again Tuesday night.

“We think it’s a universal story, even though it’s about our local experience,” Hamilton said. “It’s our version of a story that we think everyone can relate to. We’re hoping this will have nationwide appeal. We don’t really have any future plans for the film. We’re going to get it in and see what the reaction is. I think the audience is definitely out there.”

“Touchdown Newport,” which runs 60 minutes, features interviews from current Newport Harbor football coach Jeff Brinkley and defensive coordinator Tony Ciarelli.

Brinkley played under Johnson while at Cerritos College and offers more insight into the beloved coach. Ciarelli played for Huntington Beach High School and gives his take about what an opponent thought of Newport Harbor.

Billy Whitford, the director at Newport Aquatic Center, also appears in the documentary as he was on the 1970 Sailors team.


Several people were interviewed for the documentary plenty was cut, Hamilton said. Hamilton was wise, and humble, enough to have an editor (Atticus Culver-Rease) with more objectivity to make the call.

Before “Touchdown Newport” is shown, the short film “What It Takes” will air. That movie, which runs 14 minutes, 17 seconds, features the Mater Dei High School boys’ water polo team that went through U.S. Navy SEAL training amid its quest for its fifth straight CIF Southern Section championship.

Newport Beach residents Jon and James Walters, Nick Silvers, Carter Yonkers, Jeff O’Brien, Spencer Carroll, Phil Tran, Peter Seidner and Neil LeVecke, as well as Costa Mesa resident Stig Terrebonne, were in the training and a part of the Mater Dei program. Leslie Seidner, a Newport Beach resident, is a producer and editor of the film.

‘Touchdown Newport’

Where: Regency Lido Theatre, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach

When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Cost: $14

Information: (949) 253-2880 or