Bill Courtney, a successful white businessman, coaches an underdog football team at an inner city high school in an Oscar-winning documentary that quickly transcends the risks of sports cliché and racially treacherous noblesse oblige. Like the wonderful “The Heart of the Game” it is a powerful reminder of the difference one person can make — and of the consequences when no one is willing to make that difference.
Manassas High School in North Memphis has never made the play-offs since it was founded in 1899. Neither the school nor its students have the resources of their opposing teams. Courtney sums up his situation to his players: Two have been shot and are no longer in school. Two others were fighting and another was arrested for shooting someone. “For most coaches, that would be a career’s worth of crap,” he says. “I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.”
Courtney volunteers his time and an even more precious gift — he truly gives his heart to his players. He has a lot to teach them about practice and plays and teamwork, but the most important lessons come from his own example of indefatigable dedication to his team. He is fully present for them in a way that is infinitely touching. They can never give less than their best because they see him giving his every day.
The movie focuses on three players. One is returning to the team after some time in juvie for problems caused because he cannot control his rage and seems to have no inclination to try. Another is a strong player who will need to get his grades up if he wants to qualify for a college scholarship. And the third is an honor student who wants a football scholarship but is sidelined with an injury just as he needs to show the scouts he can play. Courtney’s passionate commitment makes the difference, sometimes by just being there, sometimes by bringing in some extra help. When he has some good news for one of his players, there is not a dry eye on the field — or in the audience.
“You think football builds character,” he tells the team. “It does not. It reveals character.” That is true of the players and the coach as well.
Parents should know that this film has some strong language and some sad situations including the loss of a parent and a sports injury, as well as references to substance abuse and violence.
Family discussion: Do you agree with Courtney’s decision at the end of the season? What was the most important lesson his team learned from him and what is the most important lesson he learned from them? What can Courtney’s example inspire you to do?
If you like this, try: The Heart of the Game