The award-winning documentary about Atlantic High School’s football program has received high acclaim for its unique approach to helping raise up young men through football training. Every minute of this film is downright inspirational as the film crew simply sits in on practices and classes like a fly on the wall, and candid testimonials from local politicians, to teachers and coaches, to the students themselves slowly reveal the heart and intentions of this program.
Atlantic High School birthed this program with coach TJ Jackson as its visionary and still at the helm. With professional football accolades of his own, and a stellar reputation in the community, this man of God’s heart was back home in Delray Beach, Florida serving at this Title One school where 80% of the students are at or below the poverty line. The real achievement is not the victorious football team he turns out, but the way he changes students’ lives forever. Surrounding himself with teachers and staff who care equally for these kids, and a motivational speaker, Jane Swanko, who came to talk and never left, they life coach these boys to success by praying with them, taking them all to church, talking to them about God, teaching them how to say thank you properly by writing notes to those they’re grateful to, and designing etiquette classes for them, among many other things, so they can conduct themselves accordingly in the world. Coach TJ is like a good father, and the principal, Tara Dellagroti-Ocampo, is like a mother, and many of these young men are lacking these very things.
These students are also often dealing with a lot of chaos in a single parent home, or no parents at all; going without guidance; dealing with addicted and incarcerated family members; having to care for siblings; and even going without food. Atlantic High School is their home, and their team is their family. The legacy that Coach TJ is leaving is transforming and saving lives, with suicide and teen pregnancy rates soaring among the demographic he works with; this is one man who is determined to turn things around by empowering these boys. He is showing them another way, and giving all the glory to God, teaching them that they have worth in his eyes and in God’s eyes, and the interviews of the students are proof that this is the case. These are fine young men who are choosing another way than the life their neighborhoods, homes, and popular culture are often offering them, and it’s hard work.
Coach TJ stresses more than anything that education is first and sports is second, that God gave them a brain, and that the thing that is going to take them far in life is discipline. College is the goal for each and every one of them, and the tutoring and accountability and overall support is in place at Atlantic High is a well-oiled machine where no one slips between the cracks. These kids are seen and heard and loved. They must maintain a certain GPA in order to play, but they are always part of the family regardless of what is going on. It is heartwarming and enlightening to listen to these young men talk about their experiences and to watch the staff love their way into these students’ hearts. If every high school had a Coach TJ, our schools would be going a long way to solving many social ills.
The Dove Take
A must see for every teen who needs to understand their own value and that of their neighbors, I Will Soar takes the heart to new levels of faith and gratitude.