New documentary delves into Lincoln Prep football program

Photo courtesy of Nico Giles Media

In one of the most memorable scenes from Heart of the City, a new documentary about Lincoln Preparatory Academy becoming a high school football powerhouse, coach William Lowe takes a break from game-planning for a state championship to deal with something more urgent.

“Why’d your mom call me today about you messing around with guns?” he asks a player. “Didn’t you just have a cousin who got killed?”

Kansas City-born filmmaker Nicholas Wiggins’ latest project follows the school’s fast-rising football team through a year where the city faced record-breaking rates of gun violence. Gun violence is just one issue addressed—displacement, equity and race are also at the core.

With a century and a half of tradition and notable alumni, Lincoln Prep is one of the city’s most storied schools. Before desegregation in 1954, Lincoln Prep was the only school for miles to provide high school education to Black students. Now, it’s making history again with its athletic triumph and, at the same time, undergoing a major demographic shift.

We talked to Wiggins, his co-director Jacob Handy, and Coach Lowe of Lincoln Prep about the documentary project. Here’s what to know about the film, which is now streaming online ( and seeking funding for more segments.

It started with a two-year turnaround. 

“In 2017, we were three and seven, record-wise,” Coach Lowe says. “In 2018, we were six and four. Then, in 2019, we were eleven and one. That’s when Nick and Jacob came aboard for the documentary.” 

Handy first pitched Heart of the City to Wiggins after hearing about Coach Lowe’s success. “I was told four young men were given Division I scholarships,” Handy says. “Four students going D1 at an inner-city school—that’s just not heard of. So that was a story. I knew Nick had the media game in the bag, and I was like, ‘Nick, come on, man. I need some help on this one.’” Handy knew that Wiggins, who recently won an Emmy Award for his documentary Land of Opportunity, is serious about his work. “It still took a couple of weeks for Nick to get on board,” says Handy. 

There’s more to the story than what goes down on the field.

In part, Heart of the City centers on high school football players who choose to play at their neighborhood school despite being highly recruited to play at suburban and private schools, but what’s happening at Lincoln Prep runs deeper than that. 

The school is a microcosm of the larger issue of “Black talent being recruited to white spaces,” Wiggins says. “What’s happening at Lincoln Prep is really timely because of the conversations Kansas City is having about what it is as a city. The more that we can get people discussing Lincoln Prep, the more that we can start to peel back a one hundred and fifty-year-old history.”

Wiggins and Handy spotlight alumni and community voices about the history and current status of Lincoln Prep, too. Those conversations aren’t always easy, but as Handy notes, “There’s no way to tell the story without talking about things like gentrification, not when you can look around and see what’s happening behind the school and other high schools in the area.”

The goal is not to have the answers but to kickstart the conversation. 

“At the end of the day, everyone wants a nice coffee shop on their street or a park that they can walk their kids to,” Wiggins says. “Everybody wants gentrification. The thing people don’t want is displacement.”

Near the end of our conversation, Wiggins asked: “If the neighborhood is being beautified, who is it being beautified for?” It’s similar to the question Coach Lowe implied as we first started talking: Who are the students of Lincoln Prep playing for?

“Students will believe what they’re told, and if they constantly hear that they need to go to the suburbs or private schools to be good athletically, that’s what they tend to believe,” Coach Lowe says. “We wanted to build up hype around here, in our neighborhood, you know, to show that we could be good.”

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