Tacony Charter journies into the Public League

  • School ambassadors: Tacony Charter seniors Siddiq Perry (left) and Matt Bilotti have been athletic standouts at the school.

  • Greetings: Tacony Charter’s Jim Stanton, principal Naimah Holliday, seniors Siddiq Perry and Matt Bilotti, AD Ryan Nase and coach Gerard Abernathy. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

When one thinks about loc­al high school ath­let­ics, the first in­stinct isn’t al­ways to pon­der when and un­der what cir­cum­stances these in­sti­tu­tions got their starts. 

Any­thing a per­son would want to know about, say, Fath­er Judge or George Wash­ing­ton High School would re­quire a for­ay in­to the an­nals of his­tory, an en­deavor that could prove la­bor­i­ous.

The fact re­mains that all schools start some­where, and the same can be said about their re­spect­ive ath­let­ic de­part­ments. But for Ta­cony Academy Charter School, his­tory is be­ing made in real-time.

The school, loc­ated on Rising Sun Av­en­ue near Dever­eaux in Lawn­crest, is in its fifth year, and the 2013-14 school year marks the first that its varsity sports began com­pet­ing in the Phil­adelphia Pub­lic League for ath­let­ics. Like any­thing still in its in­fancy stages, Ta­cony Charter has had to crawl be­fore it could walk, but those first strides are most as­suredly be­ing made.

“The pro­cess it­self star­ted last year, when we par­ti­cip­ated in the Pub­lic League for base­ball and soft­ball at the JV level, and in the past we’ve played as in­de­pend­ents not sanc­tioned by the Pub­lic League or PI­AA Dis­trict 12,” said ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Ry­an Nase. “When I got the job in Ju­ly, the first step was to fol­low the ne­ces­sary steps in join­ing. Now, we have base­ball and track com­pet­ing as mem­bers of the Pub­lic League with plans to add more.”

Nase grew up in Rhawn­hurst, about a mile-and-a-half from Ta­cony Charter, so the op­por­tun­ity to be able to teach and run an ath­let­ic de­part­ment un­der the same roof held a cer­tain al­lure to it. He played Di­vi­sion-I foot­ball at La­fay­ette Col­lege, where he also coached for two years fol­low­ing gradu­ation. Nase has also taught at Ol­ney Charter and served as an as­sist­ant foot­ball coach un­der Tommy Coyle, first at Judge and most re­cently at Penn Charter. 

The school plans to par­ti­cip­ate in the Pub­lic League at the varsity level in both girls and boys bas­ket­ball next sea­son, and there are plans to start soc­cer and vol­ley­ball pro­grams be­fore ul­ti­mately in­gra­ti­at­ing them in­to the league as well. 

Charter schools have been pop­ping up with in­creased fre­quency throughout the Phil­adelphia area. Ta­cony has fol­lowed the blue­print for suc­cess in be­ing able to of­fer the small class sizes of private or pa­ro­chi­al schools with the free cost of a pub­lic edu­ca­tion. 

Ta­cony Charter’s be­gin­nings can be traced back to 2002, when a new type of al­tern­at­ive school, First Phil­adelphia Charter, was launched to of­fer qual­ity, pur­pose­ful edu­ca­tion to chil­dren across Phil­adelphia from all back­grounds. Fol­low­ing First Philly’s suc­cess, the mod­el was rep­lic­ated and more schools fol­lowed suit, in­clud­ing Ta­cony in 2009. Even­tu­ally born from this in Ju­ly 2011 was something called the Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools (APS) — pre­vi­ously called First Phil­adelphia Paradigm — an um­brella cor­por­a­tion “with the mis­sion of provid­ing a pos­it­ive blue­print to com­munit­ies where edu­ca­tion­al choices were ab­sent,” ac­cord­ing to APS’ of­fi­cial web­site. First Philly and Ta­cony are each clas­si­fied as APS schools, and Ta­cony has ad­ded grades every year un­til this one, when the school be­came a full K-12 in­sti­tu­tion.

“Not only are we a K-12 school here, but this year we’ll have our first (four-year) gradu­at­ing class of seni­ors,” said APS Dir­ect­or of Com­mu­nic­a­tion & Com­munity Re­la­tions Jim Stan­ton, who has been in­volved since the 2002 out­set. “I’ve watched our schools grow from ele­ment­ary schools in­to high schools. For them to grow aca­dem­ic­ally, as well as ath­let­ic­ally … my God, we’re just so proud of them.” 

When you’re the new kid on the block as Ta­cony is, each day brings new ex­cit­ing land­marks. For ex­ample, on March 21, Ta­cony, com­pet­ing in Di­vi­sion D, played in its first ever Pub­lic League base­ball game against Mari­time; though Ta­cony lost 4-0, seni­or Matt Bilotti had an eye-pop­ping 15 strikeouts. Ta­cony then won its next two league games by match­ing 10-0 scores.

“It’s been an amaz­ing time,” said Bilotti, who gradu­ated from First Philly be­fore en­rolling at Ta­cony. “Through the years, the skill level has in­creased and the base­ball play­ers have pro­gressed as ath­letes. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I want to make my school known on a wider stage. I’m a com­pet­it­or. I live for it.”

“These four years have been really spe­cial,” ad­ded seni­or track star Sid­diq Perry, who also star­ted out at First Philly. “My mom and I felt this school was a good choice where I wouldn’t have to be around too many kids. I could start small and work my way up. When I came here, it chal­lenged me to work harder and study more. You can’t just coast by. This school pushes you to be more act­ive.”

Nase said Ta­cony Charter op­er­ates at about 100-125 stu­dents per grade, which al­lows for more hands-on and in­di­vidu­al­ized learn­ing. Des­pite their ath­let­ic re­spons­ib­il­it­ies, Bilotti and Perry both rank near the top of their class; the former will at­tend Coastal Car­o­lina Uni­versity in the fall, while Perry will head to Millers­ville. Both cred­ited the school for al­low­ing them to real­ize their true po­ten­tial as stu­dent-ath­letes.

And while two of the school’s most vis­ible ath­let­ic am­bas­sad­ors are set to gradu­ate soon, their im­pact on pos­sible fu­ture suc­cesses can­not be over­stated. De­vel­op­ments for the school’s own ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies are already un­der­way, and Nase knows that when Ta­cony starts win­ning league and dis­trict titles down the line, he’ll have these two to thank for help­ing get it star­ted.

“I guess it’s cliched giv­en all that’s go­ing on in the news with (Eagles wide re­ceiv­er) De­Sean Jack­son, but we have a cul­ture here we’re try­ing to in­still in our stu­dents,” Nase said. “We want our ath­letes to be in AP classes just like we want them to be com­pet­it­ive on the field. These guys have done a great job of es­tab­lish­ing a cul­ture of hard work and ded­ic­a­tion breed­ing suc­cess. They’re nat­ur­al lead­ers in build­ing that cul­ture go­ing for­ward.”

And after base­ball and track sea­sons have con­cluded, Bilotti and Perry will have one last “first” to con­quer: walk­ing across the stage and get­ting a dip­loma as part of Ta­cony’s first fresh­man class to gradu­ate.

“I en­joyed my time here,” said Perry. “We didn’t have a lot, but we made the best with what we had. To be part of the first gradu­at­ing class, not a lot of people get that op­por­tun­ity.”

“It will be a mix of emo­tions,” Bilotti ad­ded. “It’s a sad but also joy­ous time. I’m go­ing to hold my head high, and every­one else will, too. We’re ready for the next step.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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