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When Undefeated won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2012, I was surprised. Of course I hadn’t seen it since it was never theatrically released in my area. Up against Pina from international film heavyweight Wim Wenders and the final installment of the Paradise Lost trilogy about The West Memphis Three from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky,  I never thought this one had a chance. But the film performed like the kids and coaches it depicts – with honor and perseverance – and it took home the gold statue. And deservedly so.

Coach Bill Courtney instructs his players.

Coach Bill Courtney instructs his players.

This film follows the 2009 season of the Manassas Tigers football team, a North Memphis high school who has had a long and storied history of losing. Coach Bill Courtney is trying to get them to do something no Manassas team has ever done before – win a playoff game. The area where these kids come from is depressed, most of them don’t have fathers and live in very humble circumstances. These are kids that are mostly forgotten by society. But their coach is not one of those people. He volunteers his time to coach, often times shirking his responsibilities to his own wife and children to help these kids out, to be the father figure that many of them have never had in their lives. Along the way, he and his team of coaches try to instill more than just football fundamentals in these kids. He tries to teach them to be good people, to do well in school, to help change their surroundings by doing the right thing and to persevere. Here’s an example:

The film also follows three of the players fairly closely – offensive lineman Montrail “Money” Brown, O.C. Brown and Chavis Daniels.

Montrail is an undersized lineman whose heart is as big as the Empire State Building. He is a terrific student as well and wants more than anything to go to college. Unfortunately, his financial circumstances make that nearly impossible. When he hurts the ligaments in his knee and loses football for the bulk of the season, he loses the last thing he feels he has going for him.

Montrail awaits results from the tests on his knee after he is injured.

Montrail awaits results from the tests on his knee after he is injured.

O.C. Brown (no relation to Montrail) is the stud on the team, a huge offensive lineman with uncanny speed and blocking ability. He garners serious interest from several Division I schools. However, O.C. needs work on his grades and needs to get a high enough score on his ACT to play college ball. His coaches work with him and his tutors so that he can accomplish his goal of going to college and playing D-I ball. They even go so far as to move him into one of their houses for the bulk of the week so he can concentrate on his studies.

OC and Coach Courtney share a final moment.

OC and Coach Courtney share a final moment.

Chavis Daniels misses the start of the season due to being put into a detention facility. A hothead, Chavis brings a new headache to the team upon his return. Content to do what only he wants, Chavis lets the team down and is suspended for part of the season. With the help of Coach Courtney, Chavis learns what he needs to do to help the team, not just himself. When he tells the coach, “I’ll die for you on this field tonight”, it is one of the more powerful moments of the film. And to say that is pretty big as this film is full of those moments. He is the most intriguing part of the film.

Chavis - an uncommon man.

Chavis – an uncommon man.

This film is a true testament to the power of people’s abilities to act selfless and for the greater good. This film is marginally about football. It’s more about the creation of self-worth, the building of young men into MEN. Bill Courtney never had to spend his time working with these kids and doing it for free. He did it because he knew these kids were not just worth the time and effort, but that they deserved it. This film started out as just being about O.C. Brown, so I am glad that directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin realized the potential of the full team story. Seeing this was well worth the wait. I was extremely surprised that it was so good. This film is not about sports. That just sets up the backdrop for the story. To Coach Courtney and the staff that coached Manassas, congratulations to you – if only there were more folks like yourselves, more of these kids could get the chances they deserve.

Watch the film to see how it turns out for the Manassas Tigers season and how everything turns out for Montrail, O.C., Chavis and Coach Bill.

This film is streaming on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.

Here’s the trailer: