The Inconspicuous Hero of “Last Chance U”

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Updated: August 28, 2016
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                                                                                            The Inconspicuous Hero of “Last Chance U”

                                                                                                 (…and the West Coast versions of Brittany Wagner)

Netflix has once again produced an omnipotent docuseries with the hidden gem “Last Chance U”. Based in the small rural town of Scooba, Mississippi, this docuseries lays out the story of a powerful junior college that portrays a “Friday Night Lights” appeal that locals can grasp on to.

East Mississippi Community College is gunning for their fourth national title in the last five years. The turbulent season is documented in six episodes and exceeded all expectations if even there were any in the first place. The following contains brief descriptions of the main characters.

Head Coach Buddy Stephens: Take three inches off Rex Ryan’s height, add 40 lbs, then just trust me that somehow, some way his profanity laced tirades are even more profound than good ol’ Rex’s.

DJ Law: Very self-aware of his “all or nothing” disposition and realizes football is his only way out so even though he admits he’s not a great student, he fathoms academics is his last chance to make it out of a neighborhood where gun shots are just as common as ice cream trucks driving by.

Wyatt Roberts: Wyatt is the returning starting QB who looks and acts the part of the prototypical country boy with his camouflage hats and “lipper” (slang for tobacco) in his mouth. If somehow it came out one day that his REAL last name was Favre I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

John Franklin III: Definitely not a kid lacking confidence on the field but also portrays false bravado that oozes off the screen in key moments of the season. Sitting the bench at Florida State University clearly didn’t humble this young man.

Ronald Ollie: Absolute terror on the defensive line when he feels like it. Had a horrific childhood in which both of his parents were killed and once this is revealed, there’s two ways you can analyze this behemoth of a man. Is he a lazy prima donna who just wants to coast by strictly on talent or are the demons of his past making him a product of his environment?

Cue in Brittany Wagner…

Ms. Wagner is the throwback version of Michelle Pfeifer in the movie “Dangerous Minds” only she’s as an academic advisor as opposed to an English teacher. She’s fit, good looking, but most importantly masters the “high beam” so to speak with an equal balance of caring and discipline.

The players flood her office in between class time just for attention and occasionally even stop by during their down period even if she may be a stickler because they skipped a class. I’d peg it as a love/love type of relationship. In one scene she chases DJ Law literally down the hallway pleading with him not to miss anymore classes otherwise he’ll be deemed ineligible.

In another episode, she engages in a back and forth with QB John Franklin III about his one night escapade (he had a female visitor past curfew in his room which is a clear violation of the school’s rules) and how he probably should show a little more respect to the woman instead of bragging to his teammates about it.

The real tear jerker is towards the end when she delivers the news to Ronald Ollie that he is eligible to graduate which in turn will qualify him to play NCAA Division I next year. They take a picture to post on her cork board with all of her favorite previous players/students and the long embrace in which neither wants to let go symbolizes redemption on both ends.

I think Ms. Wagner struck a chord with me because I have two females in my life that I have the utmost respect for and are both in the education field. One is of my bloodlines and the other is an old high school friend. My older sister, Michelle Ronga, started out teaching at an all-girls private school and later transferred to the public sector where she taught Honors and IB (International Baccalaureate) English.

She possessed the rare combination of receiving high accolades from her professional peers as well as earning complete reverence from her students. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit it didn’t exactly hurt with the ladies’ situation being Mrs. Ronga’s younger brother.

I can’t tell you how many times one of her students would come up to me and bellow, “Mrs. Ronga’s your sister?!?!? She was my favorite teacher in high school!!!” In 2010, her family up and moved to Las Cruces, NM on somewhat of a short notice. Due to this circumstance, all full-time positions were filled so she had to accept a teaching assistant job that paid $10 per hour.

How’s that for a slice of humble pie? Within six years she worked her way up to a Vice Principal position at Las Cruces High School and just this past summer was named the first female Athletic Director in the school’s history.

I called the school last Monday anonymously to fact-check this information and the two people who I spoke to countered, “Yes, to our recollection she’s the first female AD in recent memory”. Now, this feat shouldn’t be impressive just because I’m telling you so. It should be impressive because if you go to the school’s website you realize the institution was founded in 1918!!! Kudos to you big sis and even though I’ll always be an Onate Knight at heart, I can now forgive the fact that you bleed red and blue.

Nicki Bonomo is a friend that I graduated high school with way back in 1997. Her story to the top is one of pure grit and guts. She knew she wanted to work with kids and coach at the high school level so eventually she had to choose a subject to teach. God bless that poor girl’s soul as she chose Mathematics.

She received a teaching job at our alma mater, San Dimas High School, but back then you were allowed a contract with strict stipulations that within reasonable time you would pass the CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers) exam. Nicki took the test and failed it. She took it a second time and came up short once again. After the fourth attempt and still “no dice”, I remember speaking with her face to face and her telling me, “Jamie, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to pass this test and time is running out.”

Now, I don’t know about you but if I failed a mandated test for a fourth time, I’d pull out the bottle of Crown Royal and start looking at

Nicki didn’t flinch. All in all she took the Algebra portion SEVEN times and the Geometry section another three. Oh, and by the way…she went on to win Rookie Athletic Director of the Year, section Athletic Director of the Year, and then Teacher of the Year at San Dimas High School. No big deal though. Is everyone envisioning the picture I’m trying to paint here?

These women didn’t get to where they are at in life by dumb luck. It took perseverance and an attitude that says, “I don’t think I’m going to let you hold me down today world, it’s just not an option”.

I’m proud to be affiliated with these two women, one by DNA and the other by choice. You’re not going to see them featured on ESPN and they’ll probably never make the 7am slot on “Good Morning America” but as long as I have this platform at La Sportsa Nostra, you’re going to hear about them here.

So do me a favor the next time you see your version of Ms. Brittany Wagner, give her a hug and express your gratitude. The world’s a better place because of them.

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