Creighton, G.W. rivals no more

A North­east H.S. alum, John Creighton has found suc­cess coach­ing soc­cer, bas­ket­ball and lacrosse at George Wash­ing­ton. TIMES FILE PHO­TOS

John Creighton and two of his young­er broth­ers put everything they had in­to beat­ing George Wash­ing­ton High School while they were stu­dent-ath­letes at North­east. 

John’s fath­er, Jack, is cur­rently the ath­let­ic dir­ect­or at Frank­ford, an­oth­er chief neigh­bor­hood rival of Wash­ing­ton’s. 

Now, John, 34, is in his fourth year as a health and phys­ic­al edu­ca­tion teach­er at Wash­ing­ton, in ad­di­tion to coach­ing three sports at the school. Does it ever get weird or strange, he was asked, to line up on the side­line op­pos­ite play­ers from his alma ma­ter (Class of 1996) with the sole in­ten­tion of de­feat­ing them?

“Every single time in every sport,” Creighton said with a laugh. “In the Face­book and Twit­ter world, I get hammered every time I post something pos­it­ive about Wash­ing­ton. It’s an is­sue, but a good one.”

Creighton, who got his start as a teach­er and coach at Woo­drow Wilson and Grover Wash­ing­ton middle schools, ar­rived at G.W. and im­me­di­ately jumped in­to the coach­ing fray as an as­sist­ant foot­ball coach un­der Ron Co­hen. Cur­rently, he serves as the head JV soc­cer coach (and is also Chris Re­id’s top as­sist­ant on the highly suc­cess­ful G.W. boys soc­cer pro­gram), as well as the head boys varsity bas­ket­ball (first year) and lacrosse coach (fourth year). 

As a head coach or as­sist­ant, the Fox Chase nat­ive won cham­pi­on­ships in al­most every sport he’s been in­volved with at Wash­ing­ton. In his first bas­ket­ball sea­son after re­pla­cing long­time coach Calv­in Jones this sea­son, Creighton’s team went 14-9, won a reg­u­lar sea­son Di­vi­sion B title and boas­ted the city’s fourth-lead­ing scorer in seni­or Kend­ale Tru­itt. 

End­ing up at Wash­ing­ton was a bit un­ex­pec­ted (Creighton’s fath­er gradu­ated from G.W., but his moth­er, Bettyann, is a Frank­ford alum, and his four young­er sib­lings were evenly split between North­east and Cent­ral), but he couldn’t be hap­pi­er with fate’s curve­ball.

“I al­ways figured my ca­reer would head to­ward teach­ing and ath­let­ics, mainly be­cause both of my par­ents were in­volved in that,” he said. “I was al­ways around it. It’s not a high-pay­ing job, but you do it for the love of coach­ing and teach­ing.”

Creighton played soc­cer and base­ball at North­east and at­ten­ded East Strouds­burg Uni­versity with the hopes of play­ing the lat­ter. When that didn’t ma­ter­i­al­ize, he dis­covered lacrosse, play­ing for two years and im­me­di­ately fall­ing in love with the sport.

“I’ve played soc­cer since I was 5 and coached it since I was 16, and my love for base­ball is prob­ably more than any oth­er sport,” he said. “That said, I’d nev­er step away from lacrosse.”

Creighton’s love for lacrosse is un­der­stand­able. A sport com­monly played by kids from af­flu­ent back­grounds in sub­urb­an set­tings, lacrosse ex­cite­ment and ex­pos­ure began to “ex­plode” in urb­an areas while Creighton was coach­ing it at the middle school level. 

While sub­urb­an fam­il­ies may have the funds for the ex­pens­ive lacrosse equip­ment, Wash­ing­ton — and oth­er Pub­lic League schools with newly formed lacrosse pro­grams — re­lies on deep-pock­eted, lacrosse-con­nec­ted donors to shell out money for the sticks, hel­mets and pads. And where the Pub­lic League is short on cash, it more than makes up for with a pleth­ora of gif­ted ath­letes.

“In lacrosse, you need to be able to throw and catch with a stick,” said Creighton. “Once you’ve got that down, I can teach the rules by trans­fer­ring know­ledge from oth­er sports the kids have played.”

Not only does Creighton love the fact that he’s been with Wash­ing­ton’s lacrosse pro­gram since its in­cep­tion, but he is also en­joy­ing the nat­ur­al rivalry that has formed between his pro­gram and his alma ma­ter’s. In year one, Wash­ing­ton had North­east’s num­ber; in year two, North­east upen­ded Wash­ing­ton in the cham­pi­on­ship after los­ing to the Eagles three times dur­ing the sea­son. Fi­nally, last sea­son saw North­east re­peat as champs after knock­ing off Wash­ing­ton in over­time of the title game, a loss that Creighton says still smarts.

And al­though the 2013 cam­paign is likely to be a trans­ition­al one for G.W., Creighton said his team “will work tire­lessly” to en­sure last sea­son’s res­ult, as well as the one be­fore it, doesn’t re­peat it­self.

Above all else, Creighton is just thrilled to see the sport’s pop­ular­ity grow­ing with­in the city lim­its. Lacrosse isn’t as big in Phil­adelphia as it is in Mary­land, Vir­gin­ia or on Long Is­land, but it’s cer­tainly mak­ing strides.

“You’ve got kids all over the city quit­ting base­ball or an­oth­er sport to play lacrosse be­cause it’s a con­stantly mov­ing, ex­cit­ing game,” he said. “We’ve put kids in­to col­lege pro­grams; three years ago, that wasn’t something you’d see in the Pub­lic League, which is now up to 10 teams now with the hopes of adding more at schools like Frank­ford and Roxbor­ough.”

Laid back dur­ing in­ter­views, Creighton as­sumes a whole oth­er per­sona when he steps on the field or court. He said he plays bad cop to Re­id’s good cop dur­ing soc­cer sea­son, stress­ing fun­da­ment­al as­pects such as timeli­ness, ef­fort and at­tend­ance. While his coach­ing per­sona is in­tense, Creighton in­sists it’s only to bet­ter pre­pare his kids for life after high school.

“Some of these kids don’t go to col­lege … a lot of them enter right in­to the work force,” he said. “Be­ing on time and show­ing up is the most ma­jor thing for any job. If your word is your biggest as­set, then you’ve got to be held to it. I want them to set goals, live by their word and just be­come bet­ter people. What are these kids do­ing after they gradu­ate? That’s more im­port­ant to me than any­thing else.”

For someone who in­structs as much as Creighton, one would think he’d look for­ward to his sum­mers off. While he joked that it’s nice not see­ing a teen­ager for six to eight weeks, he’d much rather be bark­ing or­ders at his stu­dents in gym class or to his ath­letes from the side­lines. 

And as if he didn’t have enough on his plate, Creighton also is in­volved in a newly cre­ated “Uni­fied Sports” pro­gram in ac­cord­ance with the Spe­cial Olympics, coach­ing soc­cer. Along with a pair of spe­cial edu­ca­tion in­struct­ors at the school, Creighton and his Sports for Ac­cept­ance class meet every day and teach soc­cer to its 20 stu­dents; they also just col­lec­ted 500 pledges from fel­low G.W. stu­dents in a cam­paign against us­ing the “R-word.”

“The most re­ward­ing ex­per­i­ence I’ve had in my 10-year teach­ing ca­reer,” he said. 

With that, it was time for Creighton to shuttle off to lacrosse prac­tice. Soc­cer and bas­ket­ball sea­sons are in the books, but as al­ways, there was more work to be done for one of Wash­ing­ton’s busiest em­ploy­ees.

“It’s been a whirl­wind,” he said. “Hope­fully, there’s a lot more to come.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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