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THIS `APPLE PIE' IS A SLICE OF LIFE ABOUT MOMS

Author(s):    BILL GRIFFITH Date: May 12, 2002 Page: D2 Section: Sports

``MY MOTHER ALWAYS WAS `MARY MAZZIO'S MOM.' I ALWAYS FELT SHE NEVER GOT ENOUGH RESPECT FOR THE LESSONS SHE TAUGHT ME AND MY SISTERS.''
- Mary Mazzio, Olympic rower and president/CEO of 50 Eggs Inc., an independent film production company in Wellesley Hills.

Mom, and that's mom as in "Everymom," this one is for you.

"Apple Pie," a 90-minute documentary on the relationships between star athletes and their mothers, airs on ESPN Classic tonight at 7:30. It's filled with the material that doesn't come out of locker room interviews; Mazzio tells the stories that come out only when a skilled interviewer visits the family home and people talk comfortably.

Maybe it's because so much background work was done that the stories come out easily on film. We had unprecedented access," Mazzio said. From that came a trust and familiarity that is a key ingredient in the finished version of this 10-month project.

"We learned that no one has a perfect mother," she added. "This isn't about perfect people, but real people facing real issues in their lives. These moms may not have been perfect but they taught their children some damn good lessons."

Mazzio hopes that children - and parents - will learn from this. "Kids quit so easily," she said. "They think you're born as Michael Jordan or Drew Bledsoe. They don't understand it's all about work ethic, and the real heroes aren't on television, they're around you in daily life, in your family, and in many instances, your mother."

The athletes are both the familiar - Bledsoe, Grant Hill, Mia Hamm, Shaquille O'Neal, Sarah Fisher, Rulon Gardner, Tony and Cammi Granato - and the not-so-familiar - triathlete Molly Barker, blind mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer - but one thing is clear, says Mazzio: "None would have gotten where they are now without the lessons taught by their mothers. All were encouraged, but not pushed, by their moms. They let the kids make their own mistakes and learn from them."

And that seems to be "Apple Pie's" recipe for success.

When Mazzio wrote "A Hero for Daisy" four years ago, she never dreamed the Title IX-based story of the Yale women's crew and its protest for adequate facilities would touch so many people. "It went from the West Newton Cinema to the Museum of Fine Arts [a nine-month run], to Oxygen, to ESPN, to classrooms everywhere," she said. "The New York Times called it `a landmark film.' Sports Illustrated called it `fantastic.' "

Before turning to filmmaking, Mazzio had what many would consider an ideal life. She'd gone from Needham High School to Mt. Holyoke College to Georgetown Law School. She'd competed in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona in women's doubles rowing. She was a lawyer at the prestigious Boston firm of Brown Rudnick.

"It was the ultimate Yuppie lifestyle," she said. "But when I came back from the Olympics, I said I have to do something to change my piece of the world. It came down to either politics or doing something creative."

Mazzio wrote some screenplays about "kick ass" women and went to film school. "A Hero for Daisy" was named for Mazzio's daughter, now 4.

"When it took off, I knew we were onto something," she said. She has the same feeling about "Apple Pie." "I knew from the quality of the interviews that this was something very, very special," she said. "I don't know if it's going to be a hit, but it's special."

ESPN thought so, signing on at the beginning of the project. So did New Balance. The Boston-based company underwrote the cost of the project because CEO Jim Davis found it "positive and uplifting, that leaves people inspired as well as entertained."

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com