For some struggling teens, college sports can be a second chance to get their act together, while for others, it may be their last chance at a better life.
"Last Chance U" is a docu-series on Netflix that follows troubled student-athletes as they try to better themselves through sports and balance their life on the field and in the classroom. Seasons 1 and 2 of the show featured East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) and starred Brittany Wagner as the athletic counselor who helped guide the athletes onto a better life.
Wagner sat down with 1819 News CEO Bryan Dawson and Alabama Unfiltered Radio host Allison Sinclair last week on "The 1819 News Podcast" to talk about her time at the junior college and on the Netflix show and about what she's been doing since then with her Ten Thousand Pencils organization.
"We took athletes that we kind of dubbed it as some of them no one else wanted that had been kicked out of other institutions for behavior issues, run-ins with the law or didn't academically qualify to go to a bigger institution… We kind of named it ourselves like as just a rehab place for these kids, and then we ended up being the Alabama of junior college football."
Wagner left her career-track job with a Southeastern Conference school for the "junior college world," feeling that is where she could make the most impact and help the most people. Still, she said she expected to only stay for a few years. However, over the next eight years, she saw EMCC win four national championships and helped over 200 students academically qualify for Division 1 schools, more than any other junior college in the U.S. at the time.
"I loved it. I loved every minute of it. And never in a million years did I think Netflix would come calling," she said. "...The show changed my life. Nothing about my life is the same."
Though Wagner is no longer with EMCC or the Netflix show, she's still counseling young athletes and helping them reach their full potential through her own company, Ten Thousand Pencils, which she launched in 2017.
"I do a lot of motivational speaking, which that's tied through Ten Thousand Pencils, too," Wagner said. "But then, you know, I go in and work with these schools. I've worked with entire districts so elementary all the way to high school. I worked with colleges, I've worked with junior colleges, and it's morphed over the years. I mean we've certainly had to pivot… Now I've gotten to where it's not even athletes. There's athletes here and there, but a lot of the students I'm working with are non-athletes."
Wagner said she's also benefited and learned a lot from traveling and meeting people all over the country.
"You learn one thing, that we're all the same. It's different faces, same problems, same challenges everywhere," she said. "But you know, it helps to have perspective. It helps to see people in other areas and the way that they live and the challenges that they face. I think it helps me be a better person."
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