A single mother from Mississippi has become one of the breakout stars of Netflix’s latest hit. On July 29, Last Chance U dropped on the streaming site and it introduced the world to Eastern Mississippi Community College and academic advisor Brittany Wagner. The six-part series follows one of the biggest success stories in junior college ball. The school focuses on how the school takes in players who haven’t cut it at Division 1 programs for various reasons. It’s Wagner’s responsibility to make sure that the players keep their grades up so they can keep playing. She’s also the school’s head cheerleading coach.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Wagner Says: ‘If You Don’t Make the Grades, Football Is Gone’
In an interview that was published the night before Last Chance U dropped on Netflix, Wagner told the New York Daily News:
Football is the thing they and their families think is going to get them out of their current situation.
They don’t understand that education is tagged to that. On the collegiate level, if you don’t make the grades, then football is gone.
I think for a lot of them, I’m the first person to ever say that to them.
Throughout the season, Wagner is shown in one of her primary roles, roaming the campus ensuring that players are at the right classroom. In one instance, she marches a player to a room and tells him to sit at the front. Wagner told the Daily News that she is “preparing them, period, for the rest of their lives.”
The official Netflix press release about the show describes Wagner as a “a vivacious single mother and an advisor to the team whose own success is equally dependent on the academic achievements of the players, does everything she can to keep the guys focused, papers turned in on time, and eligible to play ball.”
According to one online bio, Wagner created a program known as Gradesfirst to help monitor academic performance from athletes, according to her profile at the EMCC website. That bio adds that she is a member of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics and served as the group’s chairperson for two years.
2. She Was Married to the School’s Former Basketball Coach
Wagner is a native of Clinton, Mississippi. She was previously married to the Eastern Mississippi basketball coach Mark White. The couple have a 7-year-old daughter together, Kennedy Grier, according to her EMCC bio.
In April 2015, Mark White took a job as the head basketball coach of Tallahassee Community College. The school described him taking the job after an “impressive eight-year run at East Mississippi Community College.” White is a graduate of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. He has a son from a previous relationship named Cade.
Previous EMCC publications give Wagner’s name as Brittany Wagner-White.
Prior to working at EMCC, Wagner was a graduate of Mississippi State where she was part of the class of 2000. She attained a Bachelor’s in Sports Studies and a Master’s in Sports Administration. From there she worked for the minor league baseball team the Charlotte Knights as well as at Jacksonville State University and Mississippi State University.
3. Wagner’s Intern in 2016 Called Her ‘an Incredible Mentor & Teacher’
Wagner’s intern in the Spring of 2016, Savana Alexander, wrote in her synopsis of working with the single mom that, “Ms. Wagner has been an incredible mentor and teacher, and I deeply appreciate all of the opportunities she has given me to learn through hands-on practice. I have learned so much, not only from Ms. Wagner, but from my student-athletes as well.”
Alexander wrote about the daily stresses faced by the academic staff that play out in every episode of Last Chance U.
4. Wagner Says She Doesn’t Google Players Before Getting to Know Them
In an interview with the Anniston Star, Wagner described her philosophy of not Googling players before getting to know them. She told the newspaper:
That first game is really nerve wracking for me. At one point in the show there’s a line where I say, ‘I think I puked in my mouth,’ as I watch a player return a kick 100 yards for a touchdown.
I start thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to be huge, and I have to get him eligible.’
Wagner, in a separate interview, told Deadline, that her job is about “learning life skills.” She adds, “You better have a plan because at some point it’s is going to end.” Wagner also talked about what it felt like to see her former students go on Division 1 schools or to the NFL, saying, “Anytime you pour your heart and soul into a job. It’s the greatest reward to see you had a hand in the individual’s success.”
5. The Documentary Has Been Compared to the Much Vaunted 90s Documentary ‘Hoop Dreams’
Considering the school’s recent success, and after meeting some of the people from Scooba, Mississippi, we felt that chances were high that we would be filming one of those special seasons.
What we ended up capturing was something none of us could’ve ever predicted.
A Daily Beast article on the series said Last Chance U “wants to be this generation’s Hoop Dreams.”