September 27, 2022 was a fateful day at Roxborough High School in the Northwest section of Philadelphia. One teenager was shot and killed, while four others were wounded following a three-team football scrimmage between Northeast High School, Boys Latin Charter School, and the host school.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, these young football players and their coaches have faced unimaginable grief.
"I've always thought sports, especially in the Public League, it's almost like a bubble," said Mike Stanley, Head Football Coach at Roxborough High School. "And as long as you're all together, nothing bad really happens. Well, that day, the bubble kind of burst and it's been tough since then."
This week, the Eagles wanted to create an environment for the teens from the three teams to work through their trauma, share valuable discussions, and smile just a bit too. Positive Coaching Alliance was on hand to lead the charge.
"The main mission is that we want to make sure that we're bringing positivity to youth sports," said Monica Livingston, Trainer for Positive Coaching Alliance. "There's so many things that young people have to worry about, so our mission is to make sure that positivity stays in it, which means that fun stays in it, which means that kids stay in sports longer – and we know all the wonderful things that happen when we have kids staying in organized sports."
Livingston, a former running back for the D.C. Divas, has redirected her passion for football to inspire and create change. She said a goal through the program is to allow these kids to "get it out," noting that holding onto their feelings will only have devastating results in the future.
The Eagles established their relationship with Positive Coaching Alliance in August. Surely, they didn't expect just how quickly they would rely on this partnership to lift the spirits of the youth athletes of the city.
"We want these kids to know that despite what's going on in their community, they can still win," said Livingston. "And it has nothing to do with the 'W' on the scoreboard. We want to give them the right tools; we want to make sure that they are expressing themselves, that it's OK to lean on each other, that it's OK to lean on adults and to talk about it."
T.J. Edwards attended the event alongside teammates Shaun Bradley, Nakobe Dean, and Jordan Mailata. Edwards notably wore a Roxborough High School football jersey when he arrived at Lincoln Financial Field ahead of the Eagles' Week 4 matchup against the Jaguars to show support.
At the time, Edwards reflected on how devastated he was to hear the news of the shooting. "Playing football is a safe haven for everybody, so the fact that those kids can't do that is horrible. It's definitely something we want to do whatever we can to help."
It was then no surprise Edwards arrived at the Tork Club this week with an open heart, welcoming spirit, and desire to have an impact.
"I felt like we built so many connections just hanging out with them," Edwards reflected after the event. "Just bringing that joy to football again and making them realize that it's still a game that you love and although there's some tragic things that happened with it, talking to each other, communicating with each other, being a part of a team is what helps you get over those things. It was awesome being here today."
Eagles players were dispersed amongst the discussion groups, sitting side-by-side with the high school players – a moment where the teens realized the pros are just like them.
Coach Stanley expressed utmost gratitude and relief for what was accomplished through these sessions.
"It's another example of how many people really do care about them," Stanley reflected. "You see the smiles on their faces and they're laughing, they're joking, they're having a good time."
"If you want to see a difference, you gotta do different," Livingston said. "It's just plain and simple. So if we want gun violence to change, you have to do something different because the prescription isn't working. If you were sick, you'd go to a different doctor and figure out another medication, another treatment – and I think the Eagles organization realizes that and they're continuously trying to do something different."