Tears trickled down the cheeks of more than a couple players on Martin Luther King High School’s football team following Friday night’s opening-game loss to Simon Gratz High School.
A few days later, though, the team on the rise was all smiles as it tackled its next challenge: A half-day Outward Bound session in Roxborough.
For head coach Ed Dunn, Tuesday’s team-building activities came at the perfect time.
“Football gets so intense,” he said. “Sometimes, these guys just need some time to kind of relax and bond in a non-super-competitive situation, become friends.”
Part of an ongoing effort
Since school let out in June, MLK staffers have worked hard to help ensure that the entire student body is as unified this school year as Dunn’s squad has become.
Nearly half of King’s 1,000 student body will be comprised of former GHS students, triggering fears for some that historic neighborhood clashes will erupt inside the school’s West Oak Lane hallways.
The majority of this year’s 55-player football team went to Germantown, one of 24 schools that closed this summer as part of the district’s facilities master plan.
Tuesday’s activities, orchestrated by the Philadelphia Outward Bound School, are part of the effort.
MLK has also tapped about 30 students to be school ambassadors tasked with setting a positive tone for classmates.
Dunn said he thinks his team can contribute to the cause by showing others that GHS and MLK students can get along just fine.
“They already know that it’s all talk, that it can work because it’s working here,” he said.
Reaching new heights
Before strapping on a harness to scale and leap from a 25-foot pole, linebacker Derrick Morton said he was a bit concerned when he first learned that GHS students were coming to King. Those fears have faded.
“We had a rivalry for the past 40 years, but everybody is just trying to win now,” said Morton, who has played on lackluster King squads for the past three seasons. “We can’t butt heads and win at the same time.”
Standout defensive end Dontae Angus, who played the past two seasons at GHS, has a similar outlook after spending all summer with his new teammates.
“I didn’t ever think Germantown would be wearing King uniforms, but it is what it is,” said Angus. “You’ve got a duty. Things happen.”
The team, like most, could still benefit from a lesson or two more in communication and leadership. Those are bedrock elements to the world of competitive sports and, said Outward Bound program manager Jennifer Raymond, a successful school overall.
“As a school that’s coming together, it’s like they’re realizing that just because we’re different, it’s all the same thing,” said Raymond. “We do have to come together and make a difference.”
Dunn said he hopes those skills will lead to wins and even a public league championship, but the young coach also has a broader goal in mind.
“At the end of the school year, I hope that we accomplish more than just winning some football games, that we really are kind of a beacon of hope of what happens at our school,” he said.