Category Archives: The Delta Fall 2013

From the Editor

Undefeated by Circumstances

Our cover story “Illuminating a Path” was a couple of years in the making. Story development began in February 2012, a few days before the Academy Awards. Alumni volunteers from the Epsilon Xi Chapter at Ole Miss notified us of a Sigma Nu alumnus featured in a little-known documentary, Undefeated, about a high school football team in a poverty-stricken area of Memphis.

Earlier that month, another Ole Miss Sigma Nu had notched his second Super Bowl MVP. In a fitting storyline, and one not unlike Brother Eli’s second Super Bowl win, Undefeated was an underdog to win Best Documentary Feature – until that point only four true sports documentaries had won the category since 1942.

About one year later, February 2013, our writer Merritt Onsa interviewed Coach Courtney. Now, nearly two years after Undefeated received the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, we’re pleased to present a powerful story we couldn’t be more proud to tell. Capture

Undefeated achieves everything you would expect from an Oscar-winning documentary. You can’t help but feel sympathy, sadness, happiness and joy for the team and its players. But the film’s lasting legacy will be its power to change how we think about disadvantaged kids that seem to be in a perpetual cycle of underachievement. As Coach Courtney explains in our story, sometimes all it takes is someone showing them the pathway they couldn’t see on their own.

There are also moments in our cover story that remind us why Sigma Nu exists at all.

“The whole idea is to think about those words and make that a part of who you are.”

That’s Coach Courtney, referring to the Creed of Sigma Nu. If you’ve watched the film you know the values he instilled in his players came straight from our Creed. “They guy who wrote that [the Creed of Sigma Nu] meant it,” he says. And as you’ll discover reading our cover story, Brother Courtney means what he says, too.

Yours in Sigma Nu,

Nathaniel Clarkson (James Madison)
Managing Editor

P.S. We’re always interested to hear what our readers have to say. Leave your reactions in the comments section for each story and we’ll publish them with the next issue.

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More at SigmaNu.org

Best Practices Library Updates

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The Best Practices Library underwent another update this summer.  Review of chapter ideas and examples from the spring semester consultations, as well as this year’s Pursuit of Excellence Program submissions yielded several new practices to share with chapters.  This summer’s updates include new academic progress reports and a midterm self-evaluation, innovative ideas to improve the selection of high quality members during recruitment with a “Wall of Why,” a focus on what chapter values and needs a prospective member exhibits, sample risk management plans for outdoor and general events, and a sample Big/Little Brother ceremony.  Check out these new practices, as well as the other 225+ ideas in the library at www.sigmanu.org/bestpractices.

Have an idea, example, or resource that should be featured in the Best Practices Library? Looking for help with something specific that you would like for us to be on the lookout for adding to the library?  Send us an email at headquarters@sigmanu.org and put “Best Practices” in the subject line to let us know your thoughts.

Don’t Play Doctor

Don't Play Doctor Image

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov), over 1,800 college students die each year due to alcohol-related injuries. In many cases, these deaths may have been avoided if their friends would have called 911 at the first sign of trouble.

As part of Sigma Nu Fraternity’s ongoing effort to combat alcohol abuse and misuse, we have developed the “Don’t Play Doctor” video, in partnership with Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity, which created the original concept. This video educates viewers on the signs of alcohol poisoning and what to do if a Brother or guest appears to have consumed too much alcohol. If you ever find yourself questioning whether or not a friend has had too much to drink, call 911 immediately and get emergency medical support.  The full video can be found at youtube.com/sigmanuhq.

Alumni Advisory Board Guidelines

AAB Guidelines

Alumni Advisory Boards (AABs) became a priority for Sigma Nu in 2008. Designed to advise, guide, mentor and provide long term strategic direction to chapters, AABs are essential to healthy operations of a chapter. The Alumni Advisory Board Guidelines have been developed to help AAB members understand their role and provide specific action steps to be completed.

The document includes guidelines for advising collegians, expectations advisors should have of undergraduate members, and expectations that members should have of advisors. Be sure to see these guidelines at sigmanu.org.

Recruitment Meeting Agenda

One of the simplest items on the recruitment checklist is the one that is most often overlooked. The chapter’s recruitment meeting can hold the key to a chapter’s success by breaking down some of the most important factors. From reviewing the chapter’s performance from the previous term, to defining the type of man the chapter is looking for, the chapter recruitment meeting agenda acts as a guide through the process. Paired with the chapter self-evaluation, these resources will put any chapter on the path to recruitment success.

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Reader Responses

Readers react to the summer 2013 issue.

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Chapter News

Congratulations to the men of Gamma Upsilon at the University of Arkansas. Since the re-establishment of the chapter in 2004 they have committed themselves to the ideals and principles of Sigma Nu. The alumni are proud of the results to date.
-Joel Wood (Arkansas)

I am proud of the way they have re-established the fraternity as the premier group on campus. It sets an example for others to follow, and the charity event with the Pi Phis for literacy serves as a model for other chapters to follow.
-James Parker (Arkansas)

Q and A with Regent Charlie Eitel

Eitel interview

Great Q&A article with Charlie Eitel.  I really enjoyed learning about his story.  It is great to see successful fraternity members who truly uphold their fraternal values. I am sure it was a pleasure interviewing Charlie.
-Brian T. Clarke
Director of Greek Life
UC Irvine

I have had the pleasure of working with Charlie many years ago. Everything said is as true as it can be said. He is a great leader and motivator.
-Robert Weiss (Emory)

I am proud to say the ideals my dad shares in this article bleed over into his family life. He has been an amazing mentor to me and given me the confidence to raise incredible kids and manage our household with integrity. I love you dad! Well done, good and faithful servant.
-Jennifer Young

Sigma Nu leadership is top drawer in every way! I’m grateful and proud.
-Maury Gaston (Auburn)

Build It

Kendrick profile

This was really interesting. Living here in Arizona, I never knew Kendrick was a brother. His presence in both the sports and charity communities in Phoenix is very visible. I’m not a big fan of some of his baseball moves lately, but I guess I’ll have to overlook them now! Thanks for the article.
-Jeff Martin (Southern Utah)

Perspectives on Our Past

Perspectives

Bob, great article! Thank you for bringing Ray to life for us. You are doing an excellent job as our Grand Historian!
-Jeff Giarde (San Diego State)

A very inspiring message about Bob Ewry. He passed away nine years before I became a Sigma Nu. Every young person should read his story that shows how much the will to succeed can accomplish.
-Dean Arnold (Kansas State)

Q and A with Vice Regent John Hearn

Good advice for our young Sigma Nus. Thanks for taking a lead.
-Jack Woodall (Stetson)

Excellent! Just what we expect from Vice Regent Hearn, our Alumnus of the Biennium at last summer’s Grand Chapter.
-Maury Gaston (Auburn)

Outstanding! Great guidance for those looking to build, operate and sustain excellence — both in chapter operations and in life. Thanks for sharing!
-Michael Barry (Georgia)

Simply outstanding and awesome advice for our young leaders to follow! Kudos to you, John!
-Bill Geddy (Georgia Southern)

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Updates From Lexington

Flag Pavilion and Trees Dedicated

Thanks to a generous gift by Jerry Fields (Texas State) needed renovations of the Headquarters Shrine have been underway through the spring and summer. The Headquarters Shrine has been repainted, had new doors installed, and had a complete landscaping overhaul. Sigma Nu Educational Foundation’s Ethical Leadership Center has also received some much needed renovations, with contractors replacing carpets, mattresses, beds, and completely refurbishing two bathrooms.

These renovations were highlighted by the recent rededication of the Memorial Flag Pavilion to former Regent and Hall of Honor Member Bob Marchman (Emory). On June 22, 2013, members of Sigma Nu’s Educational Foundation board of directors gathered in Lexington for a memorial service honoring Marchman and Craig Haesemeyer (Iowa), a past member of Sigma Nu’s Educational Foundation Board of Directors. Haesemeyer served as secretary, president, chairman, and immediate past chairman of the Foundation. Haesemeyer and Marchman both had trees dedicated to their honor during the ceremony at the Headquarters Shrine. Haesemeyer was commemorated with a pin oak and Marchman with a pecan tree.

Staffing Updates

The General Fraternity is excited to welcome two new leadership consultants to its ranks. Matt Miller (Mount Union) graduated from the University of Mount Union in May of 2013 with a degree in geology. He will consult chapters in the Southwest region. Zac Morrison (Eastern Kentucky) graduated from Eastern Kentucky in May of 2013 with a degree in philosophy and a minor in religion. Zac will consult chapters in the Midwest region

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Leadership Consultant Matt Miller.

Returning leadership consultants include Alex Taylor and Christopher Brenton. Alex Taylor (Huntingdon) joined the General Fraternity staff in June of 2012 and has returned for a second year. He is a graduate of Huntingdon College, and a founding father of the Nu Beta Chapter. Alex will consult chapters in the Southeast region. Christopher Brenton (NC State) also joined the General Fraternity staff in June 2012 and will continue to consult chapters in the Northeast region.

Bill Morosco (Florida) now serves as an expansion and recruitment consultant and is the project manager for the Fraternity’s recolonization of the Epsilon Delta Chapter at Wyoming. Bill will continue to serve as a leadership consultant for the chapters in Colorado this fall. Bill joined the General Fraternity staff in June of 2012 as a leadership consultant. Ben Nye (Arkansas), who joined the General Fraternity staff in June of 201, will continue to consult chapters in the Gulf region as he assumes his new role as Associate Director of Communications.

Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky) will continue as Associate Director of Risk Reduction, where his primary responsibilities include consulting a select group of chapters and co-management of the Fraternity’s anti-hazing and risk reduction initiatives. Drew joined the General Fraternity staff in January of 2010. Drew will consult chapters in the Bluegrass-Ozarks region. Scott Smith (Central Arkansas) joined the General Fraternity staff in June of 2005 as a leadership consultant. He has served as the Director of Leadership Development since 2008, managing the consultant program and the Fraternity’s various educational initiatives. Scott will consult chapters in Oklahoma.

Spencer Montgomery (South Florida), who joined the General Fraternity in 2011, is now serving as the campaign manager for the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation. Spencer previously served as a leadership consultant and expansion and recruitment consultant. Ben Swisher, a Lexington, Va., native is now working for the Fraternity as facilities manager. Ben will oversee maintenance and renovation projects.

Please visit http://www.sigmanu.org/programs/consultation/schedules.php to read the consultants’ full bios and view their travel schedules.

The Delta Wins Top Fraternity Magazine

The Delta of Sigma Nu won the Fred F. Yoder Award for Overall Excellence at the Fraternity Communications Association Annual Conference in St. Louis this past May. In addition to earning this distinction as the top Greek Life magazine this year, The Delta also earned 2nd place for Story Packaging – Coverage of an Event and 3rd place for Best Online Feature or Magazine.

Thanks go to the award-winning graphic design team at Tria Designs and Freeport Press for helping The Delta earn this distinction. Recognition should also go to Merritt Onsa, Grand Historian Bob McCully, Mark Schlabach, Jay Langhammer and the many other writers who contributed excellent stories to the magazine this past year.

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The Fred F. Yoder Award for Overall Excellence.

FEA Presidency Completed

Executive Director Brad Beacham (Texas Christian) completed last July his term as president of the Fraternity Executives Association (FEA). The FEA is dedicated to the professional development of the men and women employed by inter/national Greek organizations and promotes the values and advancement of the fraternal movement in North America. During Beacham’s term, the FEA hired its fi rst professional staff and completed development and delivery of significant new member development resources. Beacham is the fourth Executive Director of The Legion of Honor to serve as President of the FEA. Preceding him were M.E. Littlefield (Maine), Richard R. Fletcher (Penn State) and Malcolm Sewell (Kansas State).

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Ants Marching

A study about ant colonies reveals a possible exception to the wisdom of crowds.

By Nathaniel Clarkson

Ants_web photo

It’s generally assumed that groups make better decisions than individuals. The more minds working together to solve a problem, the more likely they’ll arrive at the best answer. This idea, known as the “wisdom of crowds,” is supported by extensive research that’s been turned into bestselling popular psychology books like Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) and The Wisdom of Crowds (James Surowiecki).

A new study, the subject of a recent article in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan, released by Arizona State University, in cooperation with Uppsula University (Sweden), offers a possible exception to this assumption. Researchers set up a study in which ant colonies would choose between two different “houses.” Knowing that ants tend to prefer darker abodes, researchers gave ant colonies a choice between options with varying degrees of light to see which they would choose. In the first trial the difference between the two options was subtle; but in the second trial the ants were presented with two choices where one was considerably darker than the other.

Researchers wanted to know how the varying levels of contrast between the two options would influence the choice made by a crowd of ants compared to the choice made by individual ants. Researchers found that crowds of ants tend to make better decisions than individual ants when it comes to choosing between two options with subtle differences. But when faced with a choice where one option is clearly better than the other, crowds actually performed worse than individuals. It seems the “wisdom of the crowds” theory fell apart for ant crowds when faced with an easier decision.

When there was only a slight difference between the two dwelling options, the ant crowd performed better than the individual ant by picking the darker abode more often. But when faced with a stark difference between the two dwelling options, the ant crowd made the wrong decision more often than the individual ant by picking the lighter abode.

Researchers theorize that when a number of ants in the crowd found the inferior abode first, their choice was sufficient to influence the remaining ants in the crowd. In contrast, the individual ant made the right decision more often, theoretically, because there were no other ants present to influence the decision.

This study of ant colonies begs the question of whether the results have any application to human decision-making. Khazan, in her piece for The Atlantic, writes, “Personally, these ants reminded me of soccer riots, mob attacks, or even the decision to join terror groups. Or, perhaps less dramatically, inexplicably crowded brunch places with low Yelp ratings.”

The study offers a possible lesson for fraternities and other member organizations which must make simple and challenging decisions weekly. Obviously poor risk reduction decisions, for instance, have a tendency to originate in small factions, outside the chapter’s formal meeting. By the time a meeting occurs, faction members may have already won over enough other members to neutralize rational decision-makers who recognize the obvious risk of such a poor decision.

Guarding against such decision-making failures requires a combination of preparation and patience that can restore the wisdom of the crowd. Some chapters employ a governance procedure whereby major decisions such as bylaw changes must be approved by a vote over two consecutive weekly meetings, thus ensuring that an irrational decision is not made due to the pressure of time. Other chapters have assigned one or more members to play the devil’s advocate for all major decisions to make sure the group has considered the possible consequences of all options.

Khazan again: “We can sometimes be conned into making an extremely poor choice – even when a much better alternative is clearly available – simply because those around us have made rash decisions and we’re following their lead.”

Though humans and ants have little else in common, the ant study reveals an important lesson for leaders: groups that exercise patience in weighing all the options will be rewarded.

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Illuminating a Path

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By Merritt Onsa

Photos courtesy of TJ Martin/The Weinstein Company

Brother Bill Courtney (Mississippi) just wanted to coach football again. But when his life intersected with the players on one of the worst high school teams in the State of Tennessee, he not only helped the team turn things around on the field, he showed them where true character and manhood come from.

“Football doesn’t build character. Football reveals character.” It’s a common refrain for Bill Courtney (Mississippi). And he should know, since he’s spent most of his life playing or coaching the game.

“In a lot of ways, football is a microcosm of life. There’s pain, triumph and loss. You have to work with other people and listen to someone else’s instruction. You have to learn the difference between hurt and injured. And when you get hurt, it sucks, but you still have to keep going. Those are all the same things that happen in everyday life, and how you respond does, in fact, reveal your preparation to deal with those things,” he says.
Ever since Undefeated — the documentary featuring Courtney and his role in turning around the Manassas High School football team in Memphis — won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Courtney has been invited all over the country for speaking engagements. He talks about leadership — as in, leading yourself and leading others — which is something he learned not only through football but also in Sigma Nu.

He regularly recalls what he first heard as a candidate: To believe in the Life of Love, to walk in the Way of Honor, to serve in the Light of Truth. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s an amazing creed; that’s something worth thinking about and implementing in your life. If you could just take that creed and walk the rest of your life doing those three things, by and large, you’d be successful.’ Those words have always meant something to me,” says Courtney.

As he coached the Manassas Tigers from 2003 to 2009, Courtney closed every team prayer with this challenge from the Sigma Nu Creed. It made no difference that the players didn’t know where those words originated; they still provide the guidance a young man needs in deciding how to live his life.

Before He Was “Coach”

For as long as he can remember, Courtney played sports, especially football. Raised in a single-parent home — Courtney’s dad left when he was just four years old — the only male role models he had were his coaches and teachers.

He lettered in six sports and played competitive chess in high school. He describes himself as “a fair athlete but pretty bright.” At the time, that didn’t necessarily seem like a good thing to Courtney. But one of his mentors, the chess coach and math teacher, had also played football in high school; he showed Courtney that being smart wasn’t necessarily weak. Courtney joined the chess team his freshman year, and four years later they won third place in the national tournament. “I learned a lot of valuable stuff from him. It was guys like him and my other coaches who formed my thinking as an adolescent,” he says.

Courtney was recruited out of high school to play football at several smaller colleges; but Ole Miss offered an academic scholarship. He accepted and planned to walk-on the football team, but six days before tryouts he separated his shoulder. And, as it turns out, once he saw the skill level of the guys on the team he knew he wasn’t good enough to play with them. “I just wasn’t that caliber of an athlete,” he says.

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When Courtney graduated with a degree in psychology and English, he decided to be a teacher and continue coaching. By the age of 22, he was a head varsity football coach, the youngest in the state of Tennessee.

So he got involved in other things during college; he wrote for the student paper and joined Sigma Nu, where he served as Lieutenant Commander in 1989. “What I remember most about Sigma Nu is living in the house and the relationships, fun and the understanding of people that I developed there,” says Courtney. He also played a key role in launching Epsilon Xi’s renowned Charity Bowl, which has raised more than $1.2 million since its inception. (See the sidebar about the history of the Charity Bowl.)

During his junior and senior years of college, Courtney coached soccer at Oxford High School and soccer, baseball, swimming, track and basketball at a private school, Oxford University School. When he graduated with a degree in psychology and English, he decided to be a teacher and continue coaching. By the age of 22, he was a head varsity football coach, the youngest in the state of Tennessee.

Once he got married, Courtney couldn’t afford to keep teaching and coaching. In 2001, he started a lumber business out of his living room. Classic American Hardwoods, Inc. sells lumber to companies that manufacture flooring, cabinetry, trim and furniture. His company, now with 120 employees and offices all over the world, is headquartered just blocks from Manassas High School near some of Memphis’ most underprivileged neighborhoods.

Building a Promising Football Program

It was two years later when an employee and fraternity brother Jim Tipton (Mississippi) had been volunteering at Manassas and asked Courtney if he was ready to get back into coaching. Tipton said there were 17 kids on the football team, some of whom looked promising; but in the last three years, they’d won only a single game. Courtney saw it as a challenge. “I didn’t go there to save anyone,” he says. “I went there to coach football. But it didn’t take long to realize the inherent dysfunction of those kids’ lives. That’s what turned ‘I’ll try it for a year’ into a six-year exercise.”

In his first year at Manassas, the Tigers won four games and went to the playoffs. Every year after that, the more success they had the more the program grew in terms of team members and local volunteers. And, at the same time, Coach Courtney fell in love with the perseverance of these kids who’d faced more than their share of hard knocks primarily because of where they’d been born.

According to Courtney, an 18-year-old male from the neighborhoods around Manassas is three times more likely to be incarcerated than go to college by the time he’s 22 years old. Most of the kids he coached didn’t have a father at home; many had at least one relative in prison. They were hungry to learn about life and how to be a man. Courtney understood those desires; he’d faced them growing up without his father.

“I was able to say to them, ‘I know where you are. I came from where you are. I may be a white guy with a business and all that, but I really do understand what’s hurting you and what’s driving you. I was there; and if I can do it, you can do it,’” he says.

But he also knew from experience that “doing it” wasn’t something that happened in a vacuum. “The Lord put some unbelievable men in my life in the form of coaches. I don’t think I would be a third of what I am today if it weren’t for the men I played ball for, and that goes all the way back to elementary and junior high school,” he says.

Remembering that, Courtney knew he had an opportunity to reach these kids through something they cared about — football. Aligned with his mantra that “football doesn’t build character” he set out to help them figure out what does.

Committed to Character

What builds character? For Courtney, it’s living out those words he learned as a candidate. “It’s a commitment to integrity, hard work, honor and keeping your word. All of that comes straight out of the Sigma Nu Creed. The guy who wrote that meant it. The whole idea is to think about those words and make them a part of who you are. That’s where you build character. So when life hits you in the mouth, what you’ve built is revealed in how you handle those circumstances. The game doesn’t build character, but it will certainly reveal it.”

Day after day of hard work on the field and encouraging his players to keep their focus in the classroom, Courtney and his fellow coaches modeled what it means to be men of character. After reading Tony Dungy’s book Uncommon, Tipton introduced “The Uncommon Man Award” to help team members recognize the importance of doing well on and off the field. Every week, during their devotional time with the team, Tipton read a chapter from the book. The player who most illustrated what it means to be “uncommon” over the last week received the award before the pre-game meal.

Building a team of uncommon men wasn’t going to happen overnight; and it certainly wasn’t going to happen without help. Over time, at least 200 other volunteers served at Manassas in one way or another. Courtney eventually gathered a full staff of volunteer coaches; and members of local churches cooked pre-game meals, sent mentors to campus and hosted football camps for the team. “Every day it seemed someone new was asking how they could help at Manassas. Over the course of six years, with so many volunteers surrounding the team, it became a program,” he says.

And that program was attracting some attention. In Courtney’s sixth year, documentary filmmakers T.J. Martin and Dan Lindsay had heard about O.C. Brown, a promising lineman at Manassas; they wanted to create a 30-minute film about him. But once they saw the bigger rising-from-the-ashes story of the Manassas Tigers, they decided to temporarily relocate to Memphis to film the whole story. What resulted was an inspiring documentary that is well-illustrated by its title: Undefeated.

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Most of the kids Courtney coached didn’t have a father at home; many had at least one relative in prison. They were hungry to learn about life and how to be a man. Courtney understood those desires; he’d faced them growing up without his father.

Not Just about Football

The film, however, isn’t just about a once-failing football team’s rise to success. Courtney would be the first to tell you there were far more lows than there were highs in those six years. Four of his players were shot and killed in the course of his time at Manassas. This was about far more than the game of football.

In his words, “Undefeated has nothing to do with what happens on the field. It’s about being undefeated by your circumstances, and this group of people was not going to be defeated by their circumstances.”

And, it seems, the “people” he’s referring to aren’t just the kids on the team. “This is about two very diverse groups of people from very different socio-economic walks of life who put aside their preconceived notions and social inhibitions and just came together to work for a common goal. That’s the beauty of it.”

But just like football, it was a combination of pain and triumph. Every bit of those six years with the team was excruciating as Courtney worked and coached 16 hours a day before coming home to spend a few moments with his family. But he says it was all worth it.

“The rewards were immeasurable as more kids came to the program, as they started to win on the field and as they started to change the way they were approaching their lives. In our last two years, we graduated 36 seniors, and 35 went to college. When you see change happening in kids’ lives, you’re absolutely drawn to it. That’s the satisfaction you get by giving of yourself,” he says.

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“What builds character? It’s a commitment to integrity, hard work, honor and keeping your word. All of that comes straight out of the Sigma Nu Creed. The guy who wrote that meant it. The whole idea is to think about those words and make them a part of who you are.”

In those years Courtney changed, too. “Ten years ago I would have told you, if you don’t succeed in this country it’s your own fault. I’m here to tell you today, that’s just not true,” he says. “That sounds right, and it should be right. But the truth is, even in a country with all the opportunity in the world, until that opportunity is explained and that path is illuminated, you can’t expect a kid to just find it.”

To continue to help illuminate that path, Courtney and Tipton created The ManRise Foundation — a mentoring program for young men in Memphis schools. Mentors encourage morality, good character and responsibility through biblical principles and personal encouragement. Now that Courtney is no longer coaching at Manassas, several local churches continue to carry the torch and invest in the lives of the young people in Memphis through the foundation.

In 2003, he just wanted to coach football. A decade later, Courtney has a platform to spread the word about what it takes to impact the life of another human being. “All the money in the world is never going to fix this problem [of poverty]. This is a very human problem. The only thing that fixes it is in-your-face compassion, mentoring, real-life love and teaching about the healthy ways to live life. These kids are lost. But you light that human spirit with a little bit of hope and a little bit of guidance; and it’s amazing what can happen.”

And all it takes — is character.

Undefeated is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Netflix streaming.