By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Manassas High School in North Memphis, TN opened in 1899 and
for 110 years never made it to the playoffs, never mind a championship. When
the major employer closed, the neighborhood, if you could call it that, fell
into further decay. Abandoned decrepit houses dot the landscape.
The African-American families that sent their sons and
grandsons to Manassas were almost all headed by women. Adult African-American men
seem to be few in North Memphis.
The current school building is beautiful but without
resources for sports, equipment uniforms. To pay for the football program the
Manassas Tigers would accept exhibition matches with successful high school
programs in distant towns, knowing they would lose in a spectacular manner, but
return home with a check that would help the program limp along for another
Then in 2004 Bill Courtney, a white guy that owned his own
company, married and the father of four, volunteered to coach. Raised by a
single mother because his dad left the family when he was four years old, Bill
shared a common experience with these young men, some filled with anger, some
academically challenged, and some just good kids playing football as a way out
of North Memphis.
When I received the invitation to this film I groaned, “No,
not another football movie.” I did not enter the screening room with a good
attitude. But within two minutes I was hooked. “Undefeated” is not a movie
about football, it’s a beautiful documentary about love, brotherhood,
community, education, forgiveness, prayer, respect, humility, character, faith,
and yes, beating one another to pulp over some inflated pigskin.
The coach tells the story here, especially about three boys:
O.C., a 300 lb left tackle, Chavis the unpredictable angry kid who is just
returning from 15 months in a youth penitentiary, and Money. He is really too
small to play college ball, but he is all heart. He tears something in his knee
early on and must sit out the season – almost.
The film has a “Blind Side” vibe to it because college
scouts get a look at O.C. In one day he received what looked like a dozen
offers from colleges. But academically, he was struggling. Another assistant
coach asks his grandmother if he can stay with his family 3-4 nights a week and
he will pay for a tutor. The coaches get a lot of push back for white guys
helping one black kid, but the coach explains: when you see a kid with so much
talent and heart, no matter who he is, you just want to help him succeed.
I cannot really express how deeply this film touched me. Not
only Coach Courtney and his family, but the team, and the larger community.
This film is about gifts: the ones we share, the one’s we
receive, and the ones we never see coming.
Don’t miss this film.
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