High school coaches in the Philadelphia area have been dealing with death, desperation, and protecting the lives of their athletes for years. Many coaches claim that they have looked everywhere and can’t find the information they need in any training or coaching textbook.
One of Bill Sytsma’s Frankford High School football players called him in a panic on Christmas Eve of last year after seeing a teammate’s murder on Instagram Live. The murdered man was Sytsma’s fourth player loss in the last five years.
A few months ago, Lynard Stewart, the basketball coach at Simon Gratz High School, was waiting outside Temple University Hospital with a handful of his players when a police cruiser sped up to a stop outside the emergency door. As medical professionals hurriedly removed the man from the scene on a trolley, an officer jumped out of the driver’s side and slammed open the rear door, pulling out what Stewart described as a bloodied teenager. Thirty minutes later, an ambulance reportedly arrived with two more young, bleeding victims, leaving Stewart looking into the Philadelphia night in disbelief.
As I stand there, dumbfounded, wondering “Where do we live?
Stewart said this in a phone interview.
A previous teammate and recent graduate, Ross Carter, had been shot in a separate incident hours before, and Stewart and his players had been waiting outside to hear his fate.
Later that night, 19-year-old Carter was shot and killed; he was one of more than 2,200 persons killed by guns in Philadelphia in 2020. This number is 40 percent higher than the highest annual total ever recorded by authorities. As of last week, over 100 people had been slain this year, including 13 children, and over 400 people had been shot, including 40 children and teenagers.
High school coaches and their players have been dealing with the generational effects of violence, poverty, and mortality for many years.
There has been a recent uptick in the number of coaches who discuss the effects of their profession openly. According to coaches, they are driven by a desire to demonstrate to other coaches and their players the benefits of working together to achieve goals.
Shifting the terms of victory and defeat
Success is coveted by football coaches. However, Sytsma’s victories are often a matter of survival.
Sytsma phoned a player who used to take a circuitous route to and from school because he was afraid that someone in the neighborhood would shoot and kill his family if he were seen. For the player’s safety, Sytsma contacted to inform him that his national letter of intent had arrived, which was required in order to accept a college football scholarship.
According to Sytsma, “his face immediately lit up” during their FaceTime conversation. “Today, we were victorious. Victory for Philadelphia, success for Frankford, success for our neighborhood and our neighborhood alone.
Sytsma elaborated, saying, “He’s really overcome a lot.” “He’s a kid going through stuff that most people can’t even imagine. It’s been said that in order to achieve success, one must alter their definition of victory, but in my book, this counts.
A 15-year-old named Angelo Walker and a 20-year-old named Dyewou Nyshawn Scruggs were both murdered by gunfire in the year 2020.
Around a year after Sytsma originally offered his locker room as a secure area for his teammates to hang out, in July, Walker was murdered in Overbrook while riding his bike near his home.
A social media comic in the making, Scruggs, was murdered on Christmas Eve. Police say Scruggs streamed the alleged incident to his followers, who included his teammates, on Instagram Live while he waited at a bus stop on his way to work.
Almost soon after the incident, one of Sytsma’s players called him in a panic. It took him a while to get the player to relax enough to explain what had occurred.
Even now, when his phone calls, Sytsma immediately becomes anxious. Even with the medication his doctor prescribed, he still has trouble falling asleep at times. His blood pressure is rising, and he needs medication for that, too. Sytsma was also cautioned by his doctor not to continue his dangerous behavior.
It’s a matter of pride now, man,” Sytsma joked. I simply have no choice but to continue. When will someone give up? When the going gets tough, we live in a transfer age where people may simply change jobs. No way am I going to abandon ship.
“Anyone, Anywhere, At Any Time”
Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is a common condition among coaches and teachers, according to Steve Hydon, a clinical professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “is a collection of observable reactions to dealing with persons who have been traumatized and resembles the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD].”