Playing football under the lights in Kensington has always been Ellwood Erb’s childhood dream.
“This is something I have been thinking about since I was 12-years-old, sitting on the corner wanting to have a football team to play for,” explained the Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School teacher. “There’s not a whole lot of opportunities for teenagers in our community. There needs to be more.”
So after a lot of hard work and determination, Erb’s dream has become a reality. This fall, Kensington High School will take to the football field for the very first time.
“We’ve been pushing for a football team for twenty years,” explained Erb, the head coach of the team. “Over the past four years with our principal’s help, we’ve been able to get the budget to start the JV program.”
Students from all four Kensington high schools — Kensington International Business, Kensington Urban Education Academy, Kensington Culinary and Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School — as well as Charles Carroll High School are eligible to play. This season, Kensington will only compete at the Junior Varsity level, but will gradually expand its program. The practice field is located at Front and Palmer streets.
“Right now, our field is not up to par to play games on, so all of our games this year will be away,” explained the coach. “The kids are playing on rocks. We are hoping we can raise enough money over the next couple years to get our field in playing condition, install bleachers, and have Friday night lights under the El at Front and Palmer.”
“For all those years, Front and Palmer was just an empty space,” remembers Erb. “What we are doing is laying an actual foundation for a football program that generations [of Fishtown and Kensington residents] can come together and be proud of. On a Friday night, kids from both sides of the tracks can come together as a community and see what our young people can do.”
A standout school, Kensington CAPA met all of the Adequate Yearly Progress performance goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act in the most recent school year. Erb hopes the football program can continue the success in the classroom Kensington High has had this year.
“When a student is buying into the system and what their coach is teaching, they are more inclined to go to class because they value going to practice,” said Erb. “They’re also more inclined to have the grades that are required to play. Kids in any sports program have a better attitude in the classroom. We want our football players to be perfect citizens in the classroom, perfect gentlemen in the streets, and great athletes on the field.”
“Academics are first priority,” added the coach. “We want all of our players to graduate high school and go on to a trade or college program. The same work ethic you apply to football is the same work ethic you apply to schoolwork.”
Erb also believes the football program will help attract students to Kensington High School.
“This is where I grew up, in this community,” he explained. “I went to Central, but if there was a football team in Kensington, maybe it would have been different. To have a program will help kids in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade want to go to Kensington. Parents will be proud to send their children here because of what we are establishing, not only on the field but in the classroom.”
Working with local youth through sports is nothing new for Erb. In 2003, he started a summer basketball league at Fishtown Recreation Center after the death of Jason Sweeney, 16-year-old Fishtown resident murdered for his paycheck.
“Our kids need help,” said Erb. “I remember what it was like when I was younger. I remember standing on the corner and not having a lot of options. There’s not a whole lot to do as a kid besides getting in trouble. When Jason Sweeney was killed, that was heartbreaking for me. That’s why I started that basketball league, to give our kids something to do.”
He was also inspired to get involved in the community by others that led the way — people like his father and his uncle, Carl Erb, as well as Dan Shissler, Pat Cain and AJ Thomson.
“They greatly influenced my decision to work in the community all these years,” said Erb.
Playing football for Central High School and Kutztown University, Erb knows firsthand what being a member of a team can do for a player.
“Football is different from any other sport in what it does for young men,” explained Erb. “The sad reality of our times is that there are many kids without fathers. Football brings young men together. It builds teamwork, cooperation and trust.”
“Leaders arise on a football team,” added the coach. “They may be quiet in the classroom, but when you put them on a football field, their leadership skills come out, and that transfers over to academics. We really want to make sure our players are focused on their academics, staying in shape, and being good citizens.”
The football program will also benefit the community.
“I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Erb. “The relationship between Fishtown and Kensington, there’s a wall there. My vision has always been to tear down the wall. On Friday nights, everyone can come out to the field and watch great football.”
The Kensington High squad received their football pads this week and is gearing up for their first season of play.
Their first game will be on Sept. 21, when they play the JV team at George Washington High in Somerton.
If you would like to volunteer or help the new Kensington High School football program, please contact head coach Ellwood Erb at email@example.com.••