Softball Know-How Takes Four Former Ivy Leaguers to the Silver Screen
By Dan Colleran
Photos courtesy of Keli Leong, Christina Khosravi and Carri Leto Martin
In James L. Brooks' latest movie, "How Do You Know," Reese Witherspoon stars as a former professional softball player named Lisa Jorgenson, who is caught up in a love triangle of sorts with George (Paul Rudd) and Matty (Owen Wilson). Romantic comedy ensues, as you may expect from a James L. Brooks film.
But what you may not have expected is that five people with Ivy League softball ties were a part of the filmmaking process, including former Penn Quakers Christina Khosravi '08 and Kaelin Ainley '07, one-time Princeton Tiger Kathryn Welch '09, as well as former Columbia Lion Keli Leong '09. Also taking part was current Harvard assistant coach Carri Leto Martin.
The quartet of former Ivy League players combined for 11 All-Ivy honors in their careers, including five All-Ivy First Team nods, so it is easy to envision how they could be useful when filming a softball scene or two.
In fact, Khosravi was named the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2006, while Welch earned Rookie of the Year honors. Khosravi went on to earn Co-Player of the Year honors in 2008 and remains one of just five Ivy softball players to have earned multiple Ivy League Player of the Year honors.
"To see that woman's softball is getting the recognition it deserves is a testament to how hard both former and current players are working in building the image of not only softball but woman's sports as a whole," Khosravi stated. "It was awesome to see the time and effort it takes to film just a 30-second scene, to be on set with the director and to hear how direction is given and taken."
But how did these former Ivy Leaguers end up playing a part in the making of the film? That will take slightly more than 30 seconds to explain.
Making the Team
Khosravi and Ainley found out about the opportunity to be a part of the movie from their former coach, Leslie King. King sent out email to some former players asking if anyone would be interested in going to Philadelphia and trying out to be an extra in an upcoming Reese Witherspoon film, and Khosravi and Ainley gave it a shot.
Leong also attended that tryout after her father, Terry, saw a posting online. Leong, who was living in California at the time, made a detour on a previously scheduled trip to New York City and was able to make the stop off in Philadelphia.
Welch, on the other hand, found out about the opportunity to tryout for the movie through a link on Facebook. Along with a few of her former Princeton Tiger teammates, she sent in her softball resume and headshot and hoped for the best. She then received a call to read some lines at a casting agency in Philadelphia.
Though not an actress, Welch did what she learned to do on the softball field and in the classroom and "just gave it my best!"
Welch received a call back to read lines for a second time. Although she ended up not getting the part, she was then informed about the group tryout, also taking place in Philadelphia.
So Welch joined Khosravi, Ainley and Leong in the tryout. Around 200 women made it to the tryout and that group was cut down rather quickly, as the first round of the tryout consisted solely of fielding three ground balls.
"Sue Enquist, a former UCLA legend and coach, as well as Mark Ellis, head of movie recruiting for Sport Studio, directed the tryouts and studied our approach to the ground balls as well as our look," Khosravi explained.
Based on those three ground balls, the group of 200 was narrowed down to 20 and asked to come back the next day. Included in that group of 20 was the quartet of Ivy Leaguers.
Leong ended up being one of the two players chosen from that group of 20 to continue with the tryout.
"That afternoon I participated in the invited tryout which included several professional players," Leong recalled. "Cuts were made throughout the tryout but I made it through to the end and we were told that we would hear by September if we had been selected."
While Khosravi, Ainley and Welch were not chosen, their group had a pleasant conversation with Coach Enquist, whom Khosravi recalled meeting years earlier on the recruiting trail when Enquist was pursuing one of Khosravi's club teammates, and "the day ended on a nice note and we thanked everyone there for the experience."
As luck would have it, the studio decided to add a few more softball scenes to the shoot, and Khosravi, Ainley and Leong returned to Philadelphia for another tryout of sorts in late September.
"We were in front of the Presbyterian hospital where Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd were actually filming a scene," Khosravi said. "James Brooks lines the 15 of us up and walks up and down the line asking each of us our name and where we went to school. One minute later, he says thank you very much and wraps it up."
That was it. The 15 women left, awaiting further word from the studio. Khosravi and Ainley later received word that they had been selected to help comprise Team USA for a few training camp scenes, which meant three days taking part in the movie making process. Welch was also called in to be part of Team USA, while Leong was informed that she would be involved in multiple scenes.
On the first day, the team members arrived in Philadelphia and were outfitted in their uniforms. On the second day, they practiced at the Temple fields and figured out how the players would bring the director's vision to life. They also worked out with a few members from Team USA including Crystal Bustos, Amanda Freed and Andrea Duran.
"Our practices leading up to filming were some of the most challenging I have ever participated in and it was so amazing to work out with Olympic players and the most renowned coach in the country," Welch recalled.
The third day was the actual filming at Drexel field.
"We filmed close up and panoramic shots of the group doing a bunch of drills - quick hands, short hops, swinging station. Due to the number of hours we spent working on the film, we were actually given SAG [Screen Actors Guild] eligibility," Khosravi said.
"Seeing what goes on behind the scenes was so fascinating. From going through hair and make-up, to seeing all of the movie equipment in the dugouts, to watching all the man power that operates behind the camera, it was so interesting," Ainley added.
The day of filming was highlighted by the players getting the opportunity to meet Witherspoon, whom Ainley described as, "the cutest little Southern lady who was so appreciative for us being there."
Khosravi, Ainley and Welch took part in several softball drills as Witherspoon's character, Lisa, visited with the head coach of Team USA. Leong was a part of the filming of three scenes, including two on the field and one in Witherspoon's apartment.
Like the rest of us, the former Ivy League softball stars will head to the theaters on Friday, Dec. 17 to see if their scenes made the final edit. But whether their scenes made the final cut or not, they were a part of a rewarding experience.
"Softball has afforded me so many opportunities," Ainley summed up. "It helped shape me as a person from a young age, it helped me create and sustain life-long friendships, it helped me to get an outstanding education and it, most uniquely, allowed me to be part of a major movie production."
Leto Martin had a slightly different role than the former Ivy League players, but a memorable one nonetheless. After all, it is not every day that one gets to help an Academy Award-winning actress prepare for an upcoming role.
"It was an incredible experience because I was able to train with Reese months before filming as she was learning how to play softball."
Serving as Witherspoon's body double, Leto Martin was actually a part of the filming in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Maybe it was a natural fit to have a Harvard coach double for Witherspoon given that Witherspoon previously fictitiously attended Harvard Law as Elle Woods in 2001's "Legally Blonde."
Either way, Leto Martin made it clear that it was an exciting experience. "It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will never forget!"
While the filmmaking process fascinated the former Ivy Leaguers, the quartet are currently involved in endeavors away from the silver screen. But much of what they accomplished in their time on the diamond has helped them transition to their current professions, including two who still work in athletics.
Khosravi, who was an economics major with a minor in consumer psychology, currently works in the commodities sales group at an investment bank in New York City.
Welch, who graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in sociology, spent last fall as the Public Relations Director for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. Of note, the United Football League was founded by Princeton alum Bill Hambrecht and its commissioner is former Cornell baseball and football standout Michael Huyghue.
Working with stars such as Jeff Garcia and Ahman Green, Welch noted that the 2010 season "was such a wonderful experience and Omaha really embraced the team, selling out Rosenblatt stadium for all four home games."
Ainley graduated from Penn with a degree in psychology and also minored in sociology. She has since returned to Penn to pursue a master's degree in social work and will graduate in May of 2011. Her internship this year included working as a school social worker in her hometown of Toms River, N.J.
Leong, who graduated from Columbia in 2009 with a degree in economics, currently works as a softball instructor and is pursuing a master's degree in acupuncture.
"My future practice will cater to athletes, especially those dealing with chronic pain conditions. I've been there, I questioned whether acupuncture really worked, I tried it and got great results, and I want the athletics community to know it's a viable treatment option."