ABOUT THE AWARDS
The Jefferson Awards that recognize volunteerism have been presented on the local and national levels since 1972. Each year a national winner is selected in four categories: Elected or public officials, private citizens, people benefiting the disadvantaged and individuals 35 or younger. The final winner of Chattanooga's Jefferson Awards will attend the national awards program in Washington, D.C., in spring 2012.
In the middle of the Little League basketball championship last year, the 6-year-olds on the Southside Hawks were crying.
The game was close, and parents were hollering, recalled Takeisha Yancey, a player's mom.
Then coach Montrell Besley pulled his team aside. He told the group, "It's OK if you win or you lose. You're just here to have fun."
The kids calmed down, wiped the tears from their faces and ended up winning by two points.
Besley said he makes comments like that regularly.
"We always want to have fun while playing," he said. "It's all about teamwork."
Besley's coaching and mentoring -- both on and off the court -- prompted Yancey to nominate him for a local Jefferson Award. The 30-year-old coach is one of two November award winners.
"He deserves it. He really does," Yancey said. "He molds [the kids]. He teaches them sportsmanship."
The Jefferson Awards provide a way for communities to recognize community and public service in America. According to the organization's website, the awards' primary purpose is to "serve as a 'call to action for volunteers' in local communities."
Besley started coaching the kids at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center in 2007. He became the facility manager at the Brainerd Recreation Complex in May, and the kids from South Chattanooga have followed him to his new location.
Maya Abernathy's 7-year-old son gets coaching from Besley in basketball and baseball. Abernathy said that, unlike many other coaches, he doesn't yell.
"He doesn't have that angry, upset side to him," she said. "He's an actual teacher."
Besley said the skills the youngsters learn through sports can be applied outside a game.
"My philosophy is fundamentals. Fundamentals of life," he said.
Yancey said Besley doesn't only impart life lessons while he coaches, he also serves as a father figure to the players, many of whose biological fathers are missing from their lives.
"He pushes them to get their work done," she said.
Besley also talks to children who misbehave, she added.
Growing up, Besley did not have his father in his life, and the coaches and staff members at the Boys' Club served as role models.
"I can relate to [the kids]," he said.
Besley said he is honored to win the Jefferson Award and that it is nice to see that his work affects the parents, as well.
"It's humbled me a whole lot," he said.