VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — The recent release of Netflix’s “TitleTown High” series, which focuses on the Valdosta High School 2020-21 football team, triggered mixed reviews from the community.
It stars former head coach Rush Propst, a few of the Valdosta Wildcats and their peers and Michael “Nub” Nelson, former Valdosta Touchdown Club director.
Some residents thought the eight-episode show was amazing while others believe it did not accurately depict Valdosta.
The Valdosta Daily Times spoke to some of these residents to gather their views on “TitleTown High,” including Propst and Paul Leavy, whose son, Grayson, is one of the featured players.
FROM CAST MEMBERS
“I thought the show was done very well,” Leavy said. “They shot a lot of footage and did a good job editing it and produced a good balance between football and the personal lives of the players, my son included. My wife, Mandy, and I both enjoyed it.”
He said the series targets the younger audience though having Grayson as a cast member made it enjoyable for him and his wife.
The Leavys spent a lot of time with camera crews during filming, he said, adding they were nice and professional.
With the amount of filming done by director Jason Sciavicco’s crew at Blue Eyes Entertainment, Leavy didn’t notice many surprises in the finished product.
“I thought I would be in it more,” he said, laughing. “I was surprised at the quality of the production, all the video and audio were good, and they did a good job getting football action.”
Propst, who previously worked with Sciavicco on MTV’s “Two-A-Days” in 2006, said he was pleased with how the director was able to exhibit what high school football players endure both on and off the field in “TitleTown High.”
“I thought it was good,” Propst said. “I thought it was well done. Jason Sciavicco does good work. All you’ve got to do is ask Notre Dame, Florida State, Navy, Kentucky basketball and the people at Hoover High School and the Hoover community. To me, the people that are negative about it are the people that wish they had the same thing going on. They wish they had a show about their high school.”
He has been in contact with Sciavicco, and he said he’s mostly heard positive feedback about the series.
“I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me but I talk to him two or three times a day,” Propst said. “He’s tracking all of that and what I’ve seen on my social media, and my wife stays up on Facebook, and it’s been really positive. I’ve been very pleased with that part.”
DIFFERENCE IN OPINION
Darryl Jackson, a VHS Class of 2010 graduate, said he believes “TitleTown High” presented a great chance for people to see the talent of the Valdosta High Wildcats and the seriousness of football in Valdosta.
“It’s realistic to me because in some shape or form, it’s relatable to everyone that watched it,” he said. “All publicity is good publicity. It gives people something to talk about.”
Though Valdosta Mayor Pro-Tem Tim Carroll has not seen any of the episodes as of late last week, he expressed interest in watching the series.
“It’s about our hometown and I want to see what it says,” Carroll said.
While Detective Bob Bolton of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office hadn’t seen the series as of late last week, he had heard from others about the show.
Bolton spent 31 years as an assistant football coach for Valdosta High.
“I’ve been told that the production was put together very well,” Bolton said. “I’ve heard that the interviews, the behind-the-scenes material, were very well done.”
The only negative thing he’s heard about the show was an emphasis on drama, “boyfriend-girlfriend things,” he said.
Not everyone shared the same sentiments in enjoying the series.
Lowndes County Coroner Austin Fiveash had seen the first few episodes of “Titletown High” and he didn’t like what he saw.
“I think it’s a little disheartening,” he said.
Fiveash took exception to the constant use of harsh language by players and adults in the show.
He also didn’t like the emphasis being placed on personal drama.
“It could have featured more on the history of the program, the traditions,” Fiveash said. “As it is, it’s more of a soap opera than anything about the football program.”
Fiveash — a Lowndes High School graduate — said he planned to watch the remainder of the series but wasn’t thrilled about the public image it generates.
“This is not the way I would want Valdosta depicted on the national level,” he said.
Toni Brandon, a Valdosta resident, said “TitleTown High” was a “bit staged” with a “comical spin.”
She said the storylines were not diverse enough.
“The show was not realistic in my opinion,” Brandon said. ”... It was not good publicity for Valdosta. It made it appear (like) all we cared about was winning football games.”
Tammy Eunice and Kevin Bussey have been closely related to the Wildcats program in past years.
Eunice’s son, the late James Eunice, played for the Wildcats during his time at Valdosta High while Bussey is a 2005 Valdosta High graduate and former Wildcat football player.
Eunice said she bleeds black and gold while Bussey said it was an honor to wear the colors.
After completing the “TitleTown High” series, both Eunice and Bussey believe it gave a good impression of not only Valdosta High but also the City of Valdosta.
“I felt the team was portrayed well,” Eunice said. “There were really great young men on the team. They wanted to be there. It took a little bit for them to gel but they became a band of brothers.”
Both Eunice and Bussey favored some of the stars, noticing the relationships between some of the players and others.
“I really liked Jake Garcia. He seemed to be a very respectful young man. He wanted to see success from his teammates. And it’s really hard to have those leadership qualities coming in and being the ‘new kid.’ The team seemed to respect him,” Eunice said.
“It makes me remember how good the football players were to James when we moved back here and he was in 10th grade. Those were his first friends when we came back.”
She said she liked the dynamic between Garcia, who was a transfer from California, and his dad.
She said she also liked the connection between quarterback Amari Jones and his mom.
“It truly showed the importance of having a positive role model in the home,” Eunice said. “Someone to guide and also encourage. It will continue to shape those young men and they will be better men because of that.”
Bussey favored the relationship between Jones and his mother, as well.
He liked that she ensured her son put education first, he said.
“I just really loved that about her,” Bussey said.
He also enjoyed being able to see the behind-the-scenes footage of the team such as the exchange between coaches and players in the locker room.
Bussey said the series sent a message that speaks to the character of Valdosta.
“We’re really truly just an athletic town,” he said. “We adore our sports. We just take football a little bit more serious than most, and I think they portrayed that in a very great way.”
Eunice said it’s no secret that Valdosta deems high school football important, though she wishes the show’s direction captured more of the team’s community support.
Bussey wanted more diversity upon seeing the trailer but said he noticed a little more diversity as he went through the episodes.
A show that focused on the players on the field, as well as the inner workings behind-the-scenes, Bussey believes some mistakes were exposed, creating a narrative “that only one person was the villain” while giving “some insight into a good old boy system.”
Nevertheless, he said “TitleTown High” displayed Valdosta’s greatness.
Eunice had other thoughts about some of the circumstances conveyed on the show.
“I think it presented some huge obstacles that the team had to overcome,” she said. “It created an environment where leadership among the players needed to emerge. That’s where you saw the character development and growth of Amari, Peak, Sherman and Allah. They matured before our eyes and led the team.”
She agreed the series displayed the perseverance of the Wildcats.
Bussey would like to see a season two of “TitleTown High.”
Valdosta Daily Times sports editor Shane Thomas and reporters Bryce Ethridge, Terry Richards and Brittanye Blake contributed to this report.