GEO Gary Charter Alum Realizes Final Four Dream

When you start a charter school, you don’t include a trip to the NCAA Final Four in your application package. But, that’s exactly what is happening this weekend. Last weekend, Florida Atlantic beat Kansas State in the Elite 8 in New York’s Madison Square Garden and earned a spot to the Final Four in Houston. 

Leading the way through the tournament is Johnell Davis (pictured above), a 2020 graduate of 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Indiana. GEO started this school back in 2005. 

This article by James Boyd in the Northwest Indiana Times is a terrific overview of Nelly (as he is known by his friends), his family and his high school career. A product of the Dorie Miller projects in Gary, Nelly told national reporters this past weekend, he’s “trying to feed his family.”

Nelly’s story is why we exist. We aim to create the conditions for our students to succeed. Fortunately, Nelly was attracted to 21C by another one of our star students (Eugene German, graduated from Northern Illinois University on time and is now a pro in China) and turned his attention away from the street (where a friend of his was shot and killed) and to the courts. Once at our school, he was nurtured and supported by all of our staff and coaches, particularly Rodney Williams, Ricky Haskins, Larry Upshaw and Torrence Hayes. 

Nelly honored our school’s mission, too. He earned 16 college credits while in our high school. FAU Coach Dusty May told me this past weekend that whenever he needs anything tech fixed, he calls on Nelly (big smile). Nelly plans to graduate on time next year. 

Gary Mayor Jerome Prince will be hosting our “watch” party this Saturday in 21C’s Haskins/Williams Athletic Center (we need to build a new athletic center as we have won 8 Sectionals and 4 Regional Championships in the last 10 years). So, if you are looking for a team to cheer on this weekend during the Final Four, please cheer for the Owls of Florida Atlantic. You can bet the entire City of Gary, Indiana will be cheering for Nelly.


Kevin Teasley

Founder & President

GEO Foundation


On the left, Johnell Davis (#10) with 21C’s 2020 Sectional Championship team including Coach Williams, Coach Haskins, Coach Upshaw and Coach Hayes. On the right, Johnell Davis made sure I saw his name on 21st Century Charter School’s college and career banner back in 2018.