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- Streetwise

March, 2005 | Benefit Screening Press Release

Streetwise

March, 2005

Film Documents Dramatic Life Story of Formerly Homeless Ronnie Woo Woo

by Thomas J. Gradel

             Ronnie Woo Woo Wickers was severely underweight and sickly when he was born. Growing up on the south side, he was physically and mentally abused by his mother.

            He didn't get much schooling. As an adult he struggled to survive. Off and on he worked as a janitor, washed windows, and had a series of odd jobs. For one seven year stretch he lived on Chicago's streets. He spent winter nights sleeping wrapped in newspapers in cardboard boxes under Wacker Drive.

            Ronnie Woo Woo -- for the most part -- has straightened out his life. As a result of his loud, enthusiastic cheering at more than 3,000 ball games and his indomitable spirit, Ronnie has earned his reputation as the most well known Chicago Cubs fan. Ronnie is loved and cared for by many fans who know him. He is disliked by others. Cub players, ticket brokers and fans give Ronnie tickets to games at Wrigley Field.  He has been interviewed on national radio and network TV. He has been the subject of numerous newspaper articles.

            A campaign by fans, which was  fueled by numerous sports commentators, persuaded Cubs management to invite Ronnie to be the first regular Cubs fan to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch.  The crowd roared when he finished with his famous, ear-piercing chant, "Cubs Woo, Cubs Woo."

            Ronnie's story, with its ups, downs and uncertain future, has been made into a full-length film documentary, "WooLife."  The world premier will be at 7:30 p.m., on Friday April 1, just a few days before the opening of the 2005 baseball season. This first public screening will be at the Chicago Historical Society, Clark St. and North Ave. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

            Paul Hoffman, the producer and cameraman for "WooLife,"owns a software company and lives near DePaul University in Lincoln Park.  Hoffman first met Ronnie in the left field bleachers at Wrigley. He saw how the fans related to Ronnie and he became intrigued after learning that Ronnie was homeless from 1984 to 1990.

            Recognizing that Ronnie's story was the basis of a movie and symbolic of the long-suffering Cubs fans, Hoffman purchased a movie camera and sound equipment. He also began studying film at Columbia College in Chicago.

            "His love of baseball and faith in God gave him the hope he needed to survive," Hoffman said. "We can all take inspiration from a man who just takes things in stride and doesn't let seven years of homelessness erode his spirit," Hoffman added.

            "Most city dwellers know there are homeless people. They are an unfortunate but essentially faceless group of people we encounter on street corners and huddled in doorways. But with each person there is a story about a loss of a job, death of a loved one, a stroke of bad luck and the struggle to rebound.  I hope by telling Ronnie's story, I can help shed light on the problem and stimulate viewers to become more compassionate and helpful to those living on the streets," Hoffman said.

            It took five years to make the "WooLife" documentary.  Hoffman shot 250 hours of film and conducted 25 interviews.  Film editor, Joe Marrazzo spent 2,000 hours editing the abundance of material into a compelling real-life drama.

            Although the documentary touches on many episodes of Ronnie's life, Hoffman shows how the lessons of baseball helped Ronnie overcome hardship and setbacks time and again.

            Early in the film we learn that Ronnie's grandmother rescued him from his mother's abuse and neglect. His grandmother introduced him to baseball and took him to a Cubs' vs. Dodgers game featuring Jackie Robinson.  She taught him that there were good days and bad days. Some days you strike out, ground out or fall down while trying to make a play.  Other days, you get a hit and score the winning run. Any day you can win. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday.  It's a long season. If you keep at it, keep swinging, you'll get your share of hits.

            His grandmother also taught Ronnie that God loves him just as much as the next person.

She said when things go bad, Ronnie should turn to God for help. In the movie we see Ronnie praying as he kneels before an outdoor statue of Jesus on Loyola's Rogers Park campus.

            We also see Ronnie at his favorite perch in the left field bleachers at Wrigley. He stands with his arms out with his Cubs hat in one hand.  It's possible that the arms-up posture allows more air to fill his lungs.  He let's go with his famous chant: "Cubs Woo, Prior Woo, Paterson Woo." He can be heard throughout the entire ball park.

            The sound is difficult to describe. It's not a holler or a yell. It's like a chant solely because he repeats it again and again. "Cubs Woo, Cubs Woo" reverberates off the walls.  When the Cubs are losing and the crowd is quiet, Ronnie sounds like a single loon calling out at night on a dark Minnesota lake.  When the Cubs are catching up or just pulled ahead, he sounds like the whistle of a train, off in the distance, but rumbling toward home.

             Ronnie's persistence, his cheerfulness and his obvious undying love of the Cubs are the qualities that have earned him respect, support and encouragement from thousands of fans.  In turn, their smiles, their cheering with him, and their applause for his shtick and personality nourish Ronnie's sense of self worth. He feels useful, even when the Cubs lose.

            A group of  these fans began pushing during the 2000 season to get the Cubs to invite Ronnie to sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."  It had been three years since the Cubs began the tradition of celebrities or sports figures singing in place of the late Harry Caray who created the ritual. They asked, cajoled and pleaded with Cubs management but the invitation never came.  Late in the year his friends heard through back channels that Ronnie's very noticeable toothless smile was likely the reason why he wasn't invited.

            In the off season, the fans got together, called sports writers, wrote letters and in a short period of time raised $5,000 to buy Ronnie his first set of false teeth. A dentist donated his time. Through Spring training and the opening of the new season, there was still no invite from the Cubs.

            The Iowa Cubs, a Chicago Cubs' farm team, broke the ice.  On May 5 they honored  Ronnie at the game and let him sing.

            Then the Chicago Cubs decided that it was OK to invite Ronnie.  He rehearsed his singing and where to place the "Woos."  He struggled with and practiced introductory comments thanking his grandmother and "Cub fans all over the world."

            Ronnie, had been told repeatedly that time was short and that the TV cameras had to quickly cut to commercials before the next inning began. When the actual live performance moment arrived, Ronnie sang well and delivered his trademark "Cub Woo, Cubs Woo" before relinquishing the microphone.

            There is more to the film after that dramatic moment.  We see Ronnie practicing his lines for a TV commercial.  His friends talked about a sponsor's unsuccessful attempt to rent prime billboard space for a "Woo Woo" endorsement.  We also see Ronnie playing with his daughter and arguing about money with his girlfriend. 

            "It's a documentary not a fairy tale," says Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  "Ronnie is still struggling and probably always will. But Ronnie never quits trying.  His baseball-inspired philosophy and his faith keep him going.  He also has a network of friends who are generous with their encouragement. They applaud his successes." 

            Tickets cost $40 for the premier screening at  the Chicago Historical Society, Clark St. and North Ave. and for a post-show celebration with food at Ranallis, 1925 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.  For tickets and information go to http://www.chicagohomeless.org or www.ronniewoowoo.com, or call CCH at 312-435-4548.          

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Premier Screening of WooLife to Benefit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

A Gripping Story of Legendary Cub Fan, Ronnie Woo Woo

             "WooLife," a film documentary of legendary Cub fan, Ronnie Woo Woo Wickers, will have its first public screening on Friday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Chicago Historical Society, Clark St. and North Ave., Chicago.

            Ronnie Woo Woo was homeless for seven years and most winter nights he slept in a cardbord box under Wacker Drive.

              He is well known to fans, players and sports reporters for his "Cubs Woo, Cubs Woo" cheer which reverberates throughout Wrigley Field from his perch in the left field bleachers.

            During the past 40 years Ronnie attended more than 3,000 Cubs games on tickets he bought or were given to him by Cubs' players, fans, and even ticket brokers.

            The film tells Ronnie's story from being a mentally and physically abused child, through his bout with homelessness, to his victorious struggle to become the first regular Cubs fan to sing "Take me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley.  The invitation to sing during the seventh inning stretch came only after fans and friends raised $5,000 to buy Ronnie his first set of false teeth to fill in his previously toothless smile. 

            No longer homeless and now earning food and rent money by washing windows, odd jobs, and occasional personal appearances, Ronnie still struggles to make ends meet. He relies on the lessons of baseball and his religious beliefs to help him retain his cheery, positive outlook on life.

            Tickets for the premier screening of "WooLife" are $40. Proceeds will be donated to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

            The film documentary was produced, filmed and directed by Paul Hoffman and edited by Joe Marrazzo.

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