Local names, faces supporting cast in Oscar winner

Local names, faces supporting cast in Oscar winner
By MISTY MENEES
Special to The Press
When quarterback Tanner Spencer led the Westview Chargers to a first round playoff victory against Memphis Manassas in the fall of 2009, he knew it was a special win.
What Spencer didn’t know was that a film crew was there shooting a documentary about the Manassas Tigers. What no one could know was that three years later, that documentary — “Undefeated” — would go on to win an Academy Award.
Through special arrangement with the distribution agency the Weinstein Co., “Undefeated” will show at Martin’s Ciné Theater for one night only Monday with shows at 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Advance tickets are available at the Ciné box office.
T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay set out to make the film after reading about star Manassas lineman OC Brown in a February 2009 article in The Commercial Appeal. Brown, an African-American 315-pound senior was living with one of the white Manassas coaches and his family in Germantown during that season. Brown needed tutoring to get his grades up so he could play college football on a scholarship. Living with his assistant coach was an alternative plan because no tutors would venture into his impoverished north Memphis neighborhood.
A once prosperous community, Firestone Tire closed its Memphis plant in the 1980s, leaving that section of town to eventually become an inner-city slum, rampant with crime and poverty the likes of which most of us in this area can’t comprehend. Manassas has been known for decades as not only one of the worst football teams in Memphis but arguably one of the worst in the whole state.
With no funding from the city school system and sadly not even a booster club to support their efforts, the Manassas Tigers for years supported their own program by playing much better schools for a paycheck, sometimes $3,000 or more a game. In fact, Manassas has been Westview’s homecoming date several times over the decades.
Enter Bill Courtney, a self-made, driven and wealthy lumber man from Memphis who in 2004 stepped in to be the Tigers’ volunteer head coach. Courtney’s Classis American Hardwood business is just down the street from Manassas High School, but his true passion has been football since he was young. Courtney seems just as determined to make a difference in the kids’ lives as he is to win football games. As a kid, Courtney was raised in a home with a single mom. His father left when he was 4. The film shows his season-long struggles to relate to these young men with much-needed discipline and inspiration from a male role model.
Under Courtney’s leadership, Manassas made the playoffs in 2004, where they were buried by Westview 35-5. They also went to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 but never made it out of the first round.
“Undefeated” follows the 2009 Manassas Tigers on their winning season (they finish 9-2) and their last attempt under Courtney to finally win a playoff game for their school. If you are a Westview football fan you already know how the movie ends. About 10 minutes of the nearly two-hour film are dedicated to that thrilling 28-27 Charger win — a game in which Jake Vincent blocked an extra point attempt by Manassas.
Kicker Landon Prather made the go-ahead field goal after a late score from Demarcus Williams. Tevin Evans intercepted Manassas with just under a minute left in the fourth quarter to kill the Tigers’ momentum and Spencer ran the ball down the field as time expired in the last play of the game.
You’ll see local familiar faces as Westview players, cheerleaders, band members and Charger fans celebrate a postseason win on the field and in the stands. You’ll hear the game as narrated by Paul Tinkle and Vic Durall from WCMT Sports. Yet after Westview Coach Don Coady shakes hands midfield with Coach Courtney, the rest of the story is taking place on the other side as the theme of the entire movie plays out in the end.
Time and time again Courtney tells his players, “A man’s true character is revealed in how he deals with defeat.”
Without the cameras rolling that night, the final game, though exhilarating, would eventually have been remembered as just another playoff victory for Westview. Knowing the rest of the story humanizes the Manassas opponents and as a Westview fan, that win now seems a little bittersweet.
“Undefeated” is real-life Friday Night Lights. If you’re a football fan, it’s a must-see. However, it’s about so much more than a game. It’s truly about the journey of building character and unselfishness in young men who don’t have much else to believe in and at times you‘ll forget you are watching a sports documentary. If you are moved by the thrill of victory then you will need plenty of tissue for the agony of defeat. For that and many other reasons, “Undefeated” was nominated for Best Documentary by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and in February of this year won the gold statue.
Due to some language, it is rated PG-13. Published in The WCP 10.18.12

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