Portsmouth’s small town strength subject of upcoming documentary


By Kasie McCreary - [email protected]



Co-directed by Chase and Spencer Millsap, “Small Town Strong” hopes to wrap up editing by year’s end.

Co-directed by Chase and Spencer Millsap, “Small Town Strong” hopes to wrap up editing by year’s end.


Maile Gerken Millsap, executive producer, says of “Small Town Strong: “I moved from LA back to my hometown of Portsmouth, OH to produce this documentary because I believe in this story about a small Appalachian town that’s making huge strides and rebuilding its community by believing and trusting in its people.”


Co-Director Spencer Millsap (pictured R) films the hands of Sarah Wilson as she trains for for PSKC’s The Gauntlet fitness competition.


PORTSMOUTH—A locally filmed documentary hopes to show the world how Dale King is rebuilding Portsmouth one kettlebell lift at a time.

When King graduated high school in 1999, he soon joined the military; now a U.S. Army veteran, King was twice deployed to Iraq. In 2007, he’d returned home to Portsmouth where he’d lived all his life.

The home he returned to, however, wasn’t recognizable to him.

“When [I] left, there was no [opioid] epidemic,” King said. “When I came back, it reminded me of being in a war zone; dilapidated houses, no businesses, no kind of growth—really, no signs of life. You kind of heard about all this from afar and then to move back home, it was really foreign to deal with.”

Drawing on similar feelings of alienation following his deployment, King began to realize that those struggling under the weight of opioid addiction fought a similar battle following treatment.

“I came back home, and there’s a weird kind of reintegration period. [Some] guys within 24 hours will go from a battlefield to a Starbucks. You kind of have to figure all this out. You’re saturated in war, and when you come back home, no one has any concept of that whatsoever,” he added.

After King’s deployment, he realized that Portsmouth was waging a war of its own. He saw how the opioid epidemic had ravaged his hometown and knew that he had to do what he could to help.

“I’d started doing CrossFit in the military, and it was kind of like my therapeutic outlet. That’s what led to creating the gym. Looking back bow, it was a way for me to also express myself, work through those issues, and build something of value.”

Leaning on his personal interest in CrossFit—a high intensity fitness regimen that utilizes constant, varied movement—King was eventually able to add his own gym to his existing portfolio of businesses.

The Portsmouth Spartan Kettlebell Club (PSKC) has been working to change the health and lifestyles of the people it serves as well as the community in which they reside since 2010.

“In 2018 we developed a community partnership with The Counseling Center. We started with a couple of classes a week, and the program far exceeded anybody’s expectations. Currently, we do 25 classes a week for their clients and staff at their own separate place in addition to running our normal gym here.”

King believes that the recovery of those in addiction treatment is also vital to the recovery of the area.

“I think it’s a two-front attack,” King explained. “There’s all kinds of science that demonstrates the psychological adaptations from CrossFit and fitness in general to help individuals’ recovery. Along with that is people who are not in recovery: the people, the coaches and the [other] clients who come here, they are now exposed to that world where before there was a big wall: people in recovery on one side, people in the community on [the other].”

“An unintended positive consequence of this was letting those two people have coffee,” King added. He knows that by mingling with their neighbors, speaking with others, and sharing their stories in a way that isn’t stigmatized or discouraged, people in addiction recovery have a better shot at success while enriching their community.

King’s dedication to his hometown and its residents is one shared by Maile Gerken Millsap, a fellow Portsmouth native who moved back to the area from Los Angeles in 2020. With extensive experience in television, Millsap and her husband, Chase Millsap, knew that King’s story needed to be shared with the world.

The result is “Small Town Strong,” a documentary that the team shot locally over the course of the last several months.

“Initially when I saw what Dale was doing, I went to Chase and said, ‘you need to tell this story. You’re going to love Dale, I think it could really benefit the veteran community, and now it has all snowballed into our documentary,” said Maile.

Chase, a documentarian and a veteran himself, explained that the team’s initial focus shifted after he and Maile visited Portsmouth several times. Unlike King and Maile, Chase grew up in Texas and lived in Los Angeles, so his experience with Portsmouth—which he said resembled what he saw in Baghdad during his own military deployment—was limited.

“I really saw the power of their story. We started filming in 2018 just to capture what was going on. I knew there was something special that was happening here,” said Chase.

The documentary follows central characters as they train for an annual summer fitness competition hosted by PSKC called The Gauntlet. The largest fitness competition in Southern Ohio, four-person teams come from across the country to compete.

“Small Town Strong” culminates as the teams begin the competition. This year’s Gauntlet included the first full team of athletes who have successfully completed opioid recovery treatment as well as a team competing in honor of those lost to overdoses.

King hopes that the documentary will show his community what The Portsmouth Method is all about. The Portsmouth Method, according to PSKC’s website, is “an ongoing community revitalization project combining CrossFit, community partnerships, and economic development for individuals with substance use disorder.” And it’s what King wants those across the country to think of when they hear Portsmouth mentioned, rather than the problems it’s currently battling.

Now in the process of editing over 50 hours of footage, the team at Small Town Strong will soon see the fruits of their labor take shape. By putting a human face to a major struggle, King and his team hope that the opioid epidemic will stop being known as an “us versus them” issue.

For Maile, seeing the community rally together around a pervasive problem is heartening.

“This gave me the hope that we’re not going to stay where we are as a community,” explained Maile. “We’ve definitely begun, but we are going to continue to grow from here. I don’t think it’s going to stop until we do make the biggest small-town comeback in American history.”

Co-directed by Chase and Spencer Millsap, “Small Town Strong” hopes to wrap up editing by year’s end.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/06/web1_strong4.jpgCo-directed by Chase and Spencer Millsap, “Small Town Strong” hopes to wrap up editing by year’s end.

Maile Gerken Millsap, executive producer, says of “Small Town Strong: “I moved from LA back to my hometown of Portsmouth, OH to produce this documentary because I believe in this story about a small Appalachian town that’s making huge strides and rebuilding its community by believing and trusting in its people.”
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/06/web1_Strong3.jpgMaile Gerken Millsap, executive producer, says of “Small Town Strong: “I moved from LA back to my hometown of Portsmouth, OH to produce this documentary because I believe in this story about a small Appalachian town that’s making huge strides and rebuilding its community by believing and trusting in its people.”

Co-Director Spencer Millsap (pictured R) films the hands of Sarah Wilson as she trains for for PSKC’s The Gauntlet fitness competition.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/06/web1_Strong1.jpgCo-Director Spencer Millsap (pictured R) films the hands of Sarah Wilson as she trains for for PSKC’s The Gauntlet fitness competition.

By Kasie McCreary

[email protected]

Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or by email at [email protected]

© 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or by email at [email protected]

© 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved