If you watched the 2012 Academy Award winning documentary film “Undefeated,” the name Chavis Daniels is likely familiar. The movie follows Chavis and his Manassas High School teammates through the 2009 football season as they play for school history. But the movie is about much more than wins and losses and the team’s ultimate success on the gridiron. In fact, it’s about how a group of young men and the coaching staff that leads them come together to fight for common goals while overcoming personal obstacles that follow them in their North Memphis neighborhood.
Chavis was a junior during Manassas’ season in front of a camera. He returned for his senior year the next season and was defensive captain. Today, he’s back in the neighborhood, and at 26 is one of the youngest directors of a nonprofit organization in Memphis. Chavis and his mother started the North Memphis Steelers Youth Sports and Mentoring Program in 2016 as a way to give back to the community through football, a game that Chavis says saved him.
“I started this for the boys in the community. They don’t have anything to do,” he says. “I had a good coach coming up. It’s selling hope to kids and we ain’t selling dope in the community. In my area we didn’t have a little league, so I’m thinking, ‘why not?’ This is paying it forward. The things I learned in high school I’m teaching the kids.”
Chavis learned a lot during that junior season shown on “Undefeated.” He’s introduced as someone with serious anger issues. He missed his sophomore year, spending time in a youth facility. He gets into an argument with a coach before a game and starts a fight with a player. But instead of kicking Chavis off the team, head coach Bill Courtney suspended him. Assistant coach Tommy Warren asks Chavis how he wants to be remembered. If he’ll allow it to, Chavis is told, football will save his life.
Chavis comes back and begins to shine, leading his team to a big comeback win. Yes, high school football did much for Chavis and he wants to use that to help his neighborhood. The North Memphis Steelers field four teams – 6 and Under, 8 and Under, 10 and Under, and 12 and Under – and offers cheerleading. The organization is playing in a spring league that began May 11 and then will start again in August in a fall league. The organization is centered in North Memphis – it practices at Chavis’ old stomping grounds at Manassas. But kids from anywhere in Memphis are welcome.
In addition to football and cheerleading, North Memphis Steelers is a mentoring program that teaches the youths to serve in the community. They attend church together and host study nights and team outings. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” Chavis says. “With these kids not having anything to do, it puts them in places they shouldn’t be. A lot of these kids grow up without a father. I’ll never be their father, but I try to show I care about them.”
The organization welcomes new football coaches. It always has a need for new equipment and uniforms, especially since the organization currently doesn’t have any corporate sponsors. If you’re interested in learning more about the North Memphis Steelers, including ways to donate to the program, go the North Memphis Steelers’ Facebook page or email Chavis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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