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 firstname.lastname@example.org