Bringing football to Front and Palmer

Play­ing foot­ball un­der the lights in Kens­ing­ton has al­ways been Ell­wood Erb’s child­hood dream. Now, he's lead­ing a brand new high school team in the shad­ow of the EL.

Kens­ing­ton coaches (from left) Shawn Beck­ett and Ell­wood Erb give a pep talk to their squad after a re­cent prac­tice at their field along Front Street.

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 ell­••

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