- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) - Baxter’s Bunch is back.

Baxter the basketball is as cool as ever. He’s the point guard of the bunch, the leader of the pack, the ball with blue eyes and blue shoes.

Sage the soccer ball is as motherly as ever.

Booker the baseball remains the sporty surfer dude.

Felix the football, is the goofy one, complete with a carrot-top like head. Of course, it has to be carrots, as Felix wants everyone to eat healthy.

There are some changes. The bunch now walks and talks, and they are joined by Mr. Bird, an adult who is an eternal kid at heart.

No one is more excited that they are back than the Baxter’s Bunch creative team: author and creator, Warren Norman III, and artist and Mr. Bird, Jay Thompson.

Norman, a real estate developer during the day, and Thompson, an artist/personal trainer, have been friends since Sullivan Middle School. Eight years ago they created two Baxter Bunch books after Norman couldn’t find any sports-related books with “ball characters” to read to his then 2-year-old son Ren.

Norman approached Thompson about the book. Thompson’s response to this was crazy cool: “Every kid, boy or girl, starts playing with balls,” Thompson said.

They decided the books would teach values through sports and concentrate on healthy eating, outside play activity and reading.

The result was two Baxter’s Bunch books: “Adam Learns to Share” and “Sage Teaches Teamwork,” published in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Other projects then took their attention. Five years later Norman and Thompson have revived the bunch - and one of their original visions. They want to take Baxter’s Bunch to the small screen, creating a children’s cartoon that is a cross between “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Blue’s Clues.”

Mr. Bird, played by Thompson, is “Mister Rogers without the sweater vest,” Norman said.

Norman and Thompson have teamed with Digital Hyper Studios of Rock Hill to produce a pilot cartoon episode.

Joining their creative team are Zaide Patterson and Ashley Lang, the voices of Baxter’s Bunch. Patterson voices Baxter, Booker and Felix. Lang is the “high-pitched, excitable” voice of Sage.

“You have to remember to add the extra stuff,” Lang said of voicing Sage, “the giggles, the hey-hey-heys.

“But, the dumber you feel, the better you sound.”

Production of the pilot started Oct. 20 with a Dec. 21 premiere scheduled.

Details are sketchy, but Norman said one thing is certain, the cartoon has to be cool because “if it’s not genuine, the kids will turn it off, you can’t trick kids.”

The episode is titled “Practice” and is based around the idea of Rock Hill, Football Town USA. “It plays off that pride,” Norman said.

It features one of football town’s noted alumni, Chris Hope, who played for more than 10 seasons in the NFL. Hope’s lines were completely unscripted, but “he’s a one-take wonder,” Lang said.

Norman promises there will be plenty of the book’s signature line, “Gimme P-P-P-Potato!!!” in the cartoon - the cool way Baxter’s Bunch exchanges a fist bump.

There also is new theme song, written by Norman.

And two of the biggest and coolest kids waiting for the premier will be Norman and Thompson.

“This is a chance to be a kid again,” Thompson said. “You are only as old as your attitude, and I’ll be a kid for the rest of my life.”


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