Under the Lights awards first grant to Mae Jemison wrestling team

Under the Lights awards first grant to Mae Jemison wrestling team

Today the Under the Lights Foundation awarded it’s first ever grant to the Mae Jemison High School wrestling team. A few weeks ago, some board members and I went to see the documentary “Wrestle” at the Sidewalk Film Festival. As someone who covers high school sports, I was interested to see something based around in-state high school athletics, especially knowing the history of J.O. Johnson and how it was now Mae Jemison. I had no idea the kind of story I would be in for.

“Wrestle” tells the story of the final year of the wrestling program at J.O. Johnson before things transitioned to the new school. It follows head coach Chris Scribner and a handful of wrestlers from the program as they attempt to make it to the state championship tournament and compete for gold. Here is the official synopsis:

WRESTLE is an intimate and nuanced documentary that follows the wrestling team at JO Johnson High School in Huntsville, which has been on Alabama’s failing schools list for many years.

As they fight their way towards the State Championship and the doors they hope it will open, wrestlers Jailen, Jamario, Teague, and Jaquan each face injustices and challenges on and off the mat. Together they grapple with obstacles that jeopardize their success, and their coach – coming to terms with his own past conflicts – pushes them forward while unwittingly wading into the complexities of class and race in the South.

Through it all, the young heroes of WRESTLE – with humor and grit – strive towards their goals, making WRESTLE an inspiring coming of age journey and an impassioned depiction of growing up disadvantaged in America today.

When the movie finished, the directors along with the wrestling team came to the stage. The film was great and it just reinvigorated my love for high school sports in Alabama. I had no idea how things really were up in Huntsville. At the very end, Chris took the microphone and noted that the team was there to try and take up donations because as of that moment, there wasn’t going to be a next season for the Jemison wrestling program because they couldn’t afford it.

That is when we jumped to action at the Under the Lights Foundation. Cases like this are why the foundation was first created. I consulted with a few of our members and discussed the possibility of donating to help the program out. When I reached out to Chris, I found out that after the screening, they had actually lost more money than they had made after accepting a few donations plus spending money on printing off flyers and traveling to Birmingham to attend the screening.

We decided to ramp it up a bit at that point.

Coincidentally, the athletic director and head football coach at Mae Jemison HS was a former coach of mine. Kelvis White was the defensive line coach on both of my championship teams at Homewood, and then was the defensive line coach under Joey Jones at Birmingham-Southern when I played there. I had followed Coach White’s time at Dothan and now at Jemison as he won a region title last season with the Jaguars. I reached out to him and discussed the situation.

After talking with Coach White and Coach Scribner, we decided to officially award our first ever grant to the program to ensure that they will have a season this year.

I want to thank Chris Scribner for being a great coach and mentor to these young men as he started the wrestling program at J.O. Johnson back in the day and has continue to support it despite currently attending law school at Vanderbilt.

Thanks to Vincent Nuckols for taking over this wrestling program and continuing the tradition. I know the program is in good hands.

Thanks to Kelvis White for not only being a great coach and mentor to me growing up, but continuing to be that guidance for all of the students at Mae Jemison High School

Also thanks to principal Rachel McDaniel for being warm and welcoming to us today and for helping to take Mae Jemison down the right path this school year.

Then I want to give a special thanks to the directors behind the documentary “Wrestle” – Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer. Your film inspired me and the board of the foundation to reach out and award this first grant to the wrestling program.

However, this is just the beginning.

With this, we are officially in the process of finding schools with athletic programs, fine arts programs, academic programs and any other kind of extracurricular activities that are in need of funding. We will have an application process available soon for students to apply for individual need-based aid and schools to apply for program aid.

In order to continue to fund these programs, we need your help as well. We welcome any and all donations, no amount is too large or too small. You can donate right here on the website by clicking the “Donate” button at the top. You can also submit cash or a check to:

Under the Lights Foundation
1507 Oxmoor Road
Homewood, AL 35209

100% of all funds received go straight back into programs like the Jemison wrestling team. There are no administrative costs and as a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, all of your donations are tax deductible.

If you’d like more information, you can contact me personally at jon.lunceford@gmail.com or contact the foundation at connect@underthelights.org.

This is just the beginning. Talking with everyone at Mae Jemison High School today helped me see the good this foundation will continue to do for years to come. Your help is greatly appreciated!



Jon Lunceford is the executive director of the Under the Lights Foundation. He is also currently a host of Jox Primetime, weeknights on Jox 94.5 and also managing editor of JoxPreps. You can follow him on Twitter @jlunce or for high school updates @JoxPreps.