Making a name for themselves
Constitution High School uses basketball to spread the word about academics.
by Benjamin Herold
Four years ago, Daivon Jackson was finishing up middle school and planning to attend prestigious Central High.
“Then my counselor suggested I look at Constitution High School,” he recalls.
Jackson was intrigued by the idea of attending a brand new school. After researching plans for the small college preparatory high school at 7th and Chestnut Streets in Center City, he decided to become part of the school’s inaugural class.
But even as his first year progressed, the school remained a mystery to others.
“We were the best high school that nobody knew,” he says. “People used to think we were a charter school.”
Early on, Jackson and his fellow students hatched a plan to get the word out about Constitution.
They wanted to start a basketball team.
During the school’s first two years, Constitution athletes played for other teams under what are known as cooperative sponsorships. Basketball players had the option to play for Bodine, while football players could play for Benjamin Franklin.
These students rushed from school each day to get to far-away practices. Some struggled to fit in with teammates who were in classes together all day.
Combined with the workload at their rigorous high school, the added burden of competing for other schools was often too much.
During his sophomore year, after a fall spent playing football for Benjamin Franklin, Jackson decided against playing basketball for Bodine.
“[Student-athletes] were tired of traveling around to other schools,” explains student body president Todd Latimore. “We didn’t have anything we could call our own.”
Fortunately for the students, they knew how to enact their agenda. Constitution emphasizes citizenship and “democratic deliberation.” Its governance model includes a House of Students, a Faculty Senate and an executive branch – Thomas Davidson, the school’s principal.
After agreeing that sports were the next step in Constitution’s growth, student and staff leaders sat down with School District Director of Athletics Robert Coleman.
“We knew it was [going to be] hard to get football because of our size,” explains Latimore. “So we went for basketball. It was something the whole school [could] get behind.”
Constitution’s first official teams were in cross country, track and field, bowling, and boys’ basketball.
Getting the basketball program off the ground was no easy task.
Fortunately, Davidson knew where to turn for his coach.
Rob Moore, a first-year physical education teacher at Frankford High, had just finished his first season volunteering as an assistant basketball coach at his alma mater, Bodine.
While there, he got to know the Constitution players on the team. Through following up on their schoolwork, he formed relationships with Constitution staff.
When Davidson approached him, Moore jumped at the chance.
Last year, Constitution’s three most talented players continued to play for Bodine’s varsity. Other interested students became part of Constitution’s new JV program.
Moore describes the first year as “patchwork.”
“Some days we’d have seven guys, and some days we’d have 19,” laughs Moore. “Kids would show up, but with no sneakers. Or they’d be wearing a long-sleeve, button-down shirt.”
Because Constitution does not have its own gymnasium, the team practiced at nearby McCall Elementary – in a “cafetorium” with tile floors, no three-point lines, and murals of vegetables on the wall.
Fortunately for Moore, he had a handful of 11th graders – including Daivon Jackson – who were determined to make sure that the basketball program stuck.
“Coach Moore said we needed bodies, so I kept coming out,” says Jackson, who also continued to play football for Franklin.
This year, the first for the varsity program, Constitution’s strong academics proved to be a magnet that drew talented players from across the region.
When word leaked that North Catholic was closing, 6’5” junior forward Xavier Harris, a freshman starter for the Catholic League champions, needed a new school that could nurture his interest in law and prepare him for the Ivy League colleges he is interested in attending.
The families of Abdul King (Roman Catholic), Shaun Levine (Lower Moreland), and Tamir Bulger (Kensington Culinary) also were looking for city schools with strong academics.
“We moved back into the city, and we wanted to put Shaun in among high achievers,” explains Rick Levine, Shaun’s father.
The talented quartet joined Erik Raleigh, a 6’8” center, and Marcel Northcutt, both of whom had already transferred to Constitution and played for Bodine last year.