The most popular guy at Homewood Middle School might not be a student—it just might be (gasp!) a teacher. High fives and lit-up faces welcome Coach Steve Sills as he walks down the hallways. The feeling is mutual. Sills, who works as a career and character teacher, seventh-grade head football coach, and seventh and eighth grade assistant track coach, doesn’t just love his job, he loves these students.

Recognizing his rapport with kids, Sills aimed to make a lasting impact on their lives by forming Men Striving for Success about 10 years ago. The group later evolved into Trendsetters in order to include girls. “This is a group of young men and ladies who want to become leaders in the school and the community,” he says.

Sills demonstrates how true leadership comes from helping others. Whether they’re collecting supplies for hurricane victims, packing food for Stop Hunger Now or assisting those with special needs at Homewood’s Exceptional Foundation (just to name a few), these students dive headfirst to make a positive mark on the world. Sills can also be found using his DJ skills at fundraisers for the group’s favorite charities.

Photo by James Culver

However, one of the most memorable causes emerged from a Trendsetter who was diagnosed with a brain tumor several years ago. The entire group rallied behind him. They designed and sold bracelets to raise money for his medical bills. “To see all of the Trendsetters come together to help him made that one of the most powerful years for me,” Sills says.

Finding hope in life’s hardships is a skill he tries to pass to the students. “You shouldn’t hide your gifts just because you see your flaws and think you’re not qualified to do something,” he says. Sills turns to Trendsetter alumni to reinforce some of these lessons. By speaking about their experiences with drugs and peer pressure, these young people help prepare the Trendsetters for the difficult issues teenagers face.

More importantly, the kids are listening to the messages he’s sending. “Coach Sills is the kind of person kids want to be like when they grow up,” says eighth-grade Trendsetter Lily Prewitt. While Sills feels humbled by such statements, those who know him best understand why students feel connected to him.

“He sees potential in all kids regardless of their background and wants them to enjoy their middle school experience,” explains Sills’s wife, Lori, who works as the registrar at Hall-Kent. “He gives students an opportunity to highlight their talents that may not get shown in the classroom.”

Students aren’t the only ones who admire him—parents also sing his praises. “What a gift we have in Coach Sills!” says Mary Biggs, mother of seventh-grade Trendsetter Patton Biggs. “The students look up to him, confide in him, and have a blast with him.”

Despite Sills’s obvious talent for relating to kids, he’s actually surprised to be in his position. A Chattanooga native, he played football at Tennessee Tech. He believed professional football would be his future. Arena football brought him to the Birmingham area, but he eventually had to let go of the dream. “It hurt when that wasn’t in the cards for me,” he admits. “But I’m thankful for where I am now.”

Sills adds that he’s especially grateful for the family he has here. He beams with pride when talking about Lori and their three daughters, 16-year-old Homewood High student Makiyah, 11-year-old Hall-Kent student Kaylee and 2-year-old Skylar. Lori says the girls love the attention they get from their dad’s popularity. “It doesn’t bother them one bit that they have to share him with so many other kids,” she says. “He always makes sure that he gets one-on-one time with each of them.”

With so much positive momentum flowing, Sills plans to keep moving forward. He hopes to grow as both a coach and a mentor.  Even when doubts hit him, he says Maya Angelou’s famous quote helps keep him focused: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” For everyone who knows him, these words also explain why he is so loved.

What Students Say

When asked to give three words to describe Coach Sills, both current and former Homewood Middle School students happily shared their thoughts.

  • “Hip, friend, amazing”— Lindley Smith, 8th Grade
  • “Honesty, encouraging, integrity”— Mitchell Prewitt, 9th Grade
  • “Funny, selfless, inspiring”— Lily Prewitt, 8th Grade
  • “Fun, kind, encouraging”— James McKittrick, 7th Grade
  • “Creative, experienced, open”— Christopher Steele, 8th Grade
  • “Encouraging, inspiring, role model”— Fiona Mullins, 8th Grade