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Kiowa County Signal - Kiowa County, KS
by Garon Cockrell
Undefeated DVD Review
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Feb. 16, 2013 5:10 p.m.

















Undefeated is an

excellent documentary about the football team at Manassas High School in North

Memphis, Tennessee. But don’t worry – you don’t have to love football to love

this film. You probably don’t even need to like football. This film is really

about overcoming obstacles, working together toward a common goal, and rising

above one’s set of circumstances. The idea is that your dreams are not

necessarily out of reach, although there is plenty of heartbreak and trouble

along the way. As a former NFL player tells the team early on, “You gotta think

outside your circumstances
.”








This is a team in an underfunded system, a team that has

always lost, once having a season record of 0-10. They play in an area that is

basically poor. The plant that supplied most of the families with jobs closed,

and so a lot of folks moved out. (There are several shots of boarded up houses

during the opening credit sequence.) This film documents one season in which

the team attempts to do what the school had never done before – win a play-off

game.








The film starts with the team’s coach, Bill Courtney,

listing off players who have been shot and are no longer in school; also, another

player was arrested, and this was all within two weeks. And yet he tells them, “This

is our season – I don’t care what happens
.” The film takes us through the

entire season, starting with the first day of practice.








Before their second game, there is a talk of a planned

fight after this district game. At the half, Manassas is down, 20-0. The

players are obviously down as well. Bill Courtney tells them optimistically, “This

is an unbelievably good opportunity
.” 

And the team does manage to come back in the second half. As incredible

as that is, the footage after the game is even more intense. Because of the

worry of a fight, the cops stop the teams from shaking hands. And you realize

just how serious things are. The celebration of the victory juxtaposed with

very real concern of the police for the team’s safety is a seriously engaging

moment in the film. And this film is full of such moments.








The team’s coaches are all volunteers.  The head coach, Bill Courtney, began

volunteering six years before this film was shot. His first year there, the

team won four games, so they were no longer the worst team in the state.  Bill Courtney says, “You think football

builds character, which it does not. Football reveals character
.” Bill can

relate to these kids because his own father left when he was four years old.

Not only does Courtney coach these kids, but he has to solve problems among

teammates (and in doing so, he misses his own son’s first game).








Besides the coaches, the film focuses on several of the

team’s key players. O.C. is a senior, and plays left tackle. He lives with his

grandmother, and sees football as his way out. When O.C.’s grades slip he moves

into coach Mike Ray’s house, because tutors wouldn’t go to O.C.’s house.

Seriously. These are kids who really care, who are trying to make it, who are

putting in the effort. And these are coaches who go way beyond simply teaching

them how to play the game.








Montrail (AKA “Money”) is also a senior, and plays right

tackle. He is small for the position, but mentally tough. Money’s is one of the

more heartbreaking (and ultimately heartwarming) story lines in this film. He is

injured, and is unable to play for the rest of the season. The footage of him

hearing the news from his doctor is intense. Again, you come to really care for

these guys.








The film also focuses on Chavis, a junior linebacker who

returns to school after serving fifteen months in a youth penitentiary. He gets

into fights with other players, and is suspended from team rather than kicked

off.








One of the elements of this story that I found

fascinating was how they funded the football program. They used to play what

were called pay games, where the team would be bused out to another school, and

as Courtney says,  They’d beat our ass,

they’d give us a check, and send us back on our way. And those five or six

games would raise fifteen to twenty thousand dollars and that’s what would fund

the football program
.” The problem with that, of course, is then when you got

to your district games, your kids were already beat up and defeated. So they

started Manrise, a program to raise money.








Undefeated was

directed and edited by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin.








Bonus Features








This DVD has some good bonus material. There is a

commentary track with directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin. There are six

deleted scenes, including stuff with Joaquin, a player who spent most of his teen

years in foster care. It must have been a tough decision to cut this footage

from the film.








The Making Of

Undefeated
  (8 ½ minutes) includes

interviews with Bill Courtney, Dan Lindsay, TJ Martin and Sean Combs. (Combs is

one of the executive producers.) Dan Lindsay talks about how the idea for the

documentary began with a newspaper article about O.C. He and TJ Martin talk

about their experience at the Academy Awards too.








And there is a black and white teaser trailer.








Undefeated is

scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 19, 2013.






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