by Kofi Biney
For many Black male student-athletes in Philadelphia, intercollegiate sports are perceived as a ticket to post-secondary success, especially when looking at area colleges like Penn State and Villanova, where the graduation rates for Black male athletes is 78 percent. But many colleges and universities are actually failing at the game of graduating these students, according to a report released by the Penn Graduate School of Education’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.
Philadelphia City Rowing, a nonprofit that offers District high schools free access to competitive rowing, helped Masterman High School senior Deblyn Lawrence find her voice.
They liked what they heard.
Lawrence knew next to nothing about the sport a year and a half ago when a friend encouraged her to join PCR. One day, early in her tenure, the girls' varsity boat was without its coxswain – the member of each boat that yells instruction to the other rowers.
Midway through a year of austerity – lowlighted by a 70 percent reduction in funds for middle school sports – Robert Coleman, the District's executive director of the Office of Athletics, finally has good news.
"The train is coming in," Coleman says.
Coleman isn't speaking in metaphors.
At Baldi Middle School, where the sports program is a districtwide model for excellence, Zachary Dorsonne's transformation from reluctant student to standout peer is a surprisingly typical tale.
Dorsonne, an 8th grader at the Northeast Philadelphia school, joined its football team in the fall. Within a few months, teachers and coaches noticed substantial improvements in his behavior.
Sports Teaching and Reaching Students (STARS), a new Philadelphia nonprofit, aims to build exceptional athletic programs at low-income schools in the city.
Providing athletic equipment and support is at the top of STARS’ agenda. STARS will also assess athletic needs, manage resources, and track academic progress. High schools can apply for a STARS sponsorship now through October 20.
As a recently created high school preparing to graduate its first senior class, the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Northeast Philadelphia is just beginning to establish a sporting tradition.
If the school is lucky, it will someday have a legacy to equal that of its principal, Jessica Brown.
A three-time collegiate All-American in lacrosse and a standout field hockey player, Brown was inducted into Kenyon College’s athletic Hall of Fame in September.
The Flyers' season may have ended prematurely, but hockey is still being played in some unlikely places in Philadelphia.
For Matt Braun, a math teacher at Muñoz-Marín Elementary in Kensington, that's just one more reason to be excited to come to work each day.
For Kevin Diep, playing high school volleyball has been as much about building relationships as about winning games.
As a senior at Masterman High School in Center City, he's had the chance to do plenty of both.
"Our school program is really good," he explained.
That's something of an understatement given Masterman's extended volleyball success, which includes eight Public League boys' titles since 1995, including one in 2009, when Diep was a 10th grader.
McCall Elementary School 4th grader Andrew Rizzo-Reidy (right) practices arranging cups during a meeting of the school’s speed stacking club, as (from left) 2nd graders Hayden Huston and Lerieng Nguyen and 4th grader Jordan Bingham watch. Speed stacking, now taught in more than 30 District schools, is a competitive sport recognized worldwide. Mark Sykes, McCall’s health and physical education coach, oversees the club. The sport supports right-brain development, concentration, fine-motor control, and sequencing skills.
Though Willam Penn High School experienced many changes during the last 30 years, one thing could always be counted on.
No matter what, the girls' track team always ran fast.
Beginning in 1983, the Penn girls reeled off a 20-year regular-season unbeaten streak, winning 18 Public League championships and 18 Pennsylvania Coaches' Association indoor state championships along the way.