The “Code” Has Been Abandoned: The Case of Sam Sessoms, Jr.

The past 10 years or so have witnessed nothing less than the collapse of the social contract between the “street dudes” and ball players. This collapse is characterized by proliferation of gun violence involving college bound student-athletes, by the normalization of death among 16-22 year old student-athletes, by the high levels of drug use among student-athletes, by the emergence of a parasitic cadre of “handlers” and by an increasingly frequent failure to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Elite student-athletes in cities like Philadelphia, Chester, Coatesville and Camden are especially vulnerable.

Elite basketball and football players were once considered off limits. Those of us of a certain age can certainly recall numerous occasions where the “ol’ heads” would emphatically declare “this ain’t for you youngbul… take yo ass home.” Later on, you would learn there was a fight, a robbery or some other illicit activity that the ol’ head protected you from.

It was an unwritten, but rigidly adhered to “code.”

Ball players and good students were off limits. The drug dealers and the gun toters were always prevalent in urban communities. They were there… you encountered them on a daily basis. They may have given the ball players some new sneakers… They may have had the ball players on their summer league teams… They may have shared some of their winnings from wagers on the games with the ball players… They may have even helped the ball players enter into “entanglements” with some of the fly young females in the community.

But when it was time to “strap up” or “put in work,” real ol’ heads ALWAYS declared “this ain’t for you youngbul… take yo ass home.”

Those days are gone. No case illustrates this point more than that of Sam Sessoms, Jr.

A magnificent basketball player, Sessoms hails from the hard-scrabble Mantua section of Philadelphia. The “Black Bottom” as it colloquially known in Philly is one of the most violent neighborhoods in America. Violence and mayhem have long characterized the Bottom. As far back as 1987, during the throes of the crack epidemic, the Mantua community saw twelve murders.

An excellent student, Sessom, Jr. leveraged his considerable basketball talents to gain entry in the highly competitive Shipley School. Sessoms would go on to have a legendary school boy career. He was a four-year standout for coach Philip D’Ambrosio, leading the Gators to 68 wins during his career and berth in league championship game in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018. Sessoms was named all-league and All-Mainline accolades all four years and all-state twice with first-team honors as a senior. He poured in 28.8 points per game as senior and 23.0 ppg for his junior season, finishing his scholastic career with a school-record 2,091 career points.

Sessoms in action against Seton Hall

Sessoms accepted a scholarship to Binghamton University where he continued to excel. He was named to the CollegeInsider.com Freshman All-America Team and named the America East Rookie of the Year after earning America East Rookie of the Week honors seven times. His sophomore campaign was even better. Sessoms started in all 29 games and finished season with a conference leading 19.8 points per game.

Sessoms decided he wanted the challenge of playing at the high major level and transferred to Penn State after his sophomore season. In his first Big 10 season, he played in 24 games in with the Nittany Lions as a key sixth-man player. He had nine double-digit scoring efforts and was the only Nittany Lion to score in double figures in first seven games, all off the bench.

Fully acclimated to the Big 10, Sessoms was looking forward to summer of hard work in preparation for a new era in Penn State basketball under first year Head Coach Micah Shrewsberry.

Those that know Sessoms fully anticipated a break out season in the Big 10.

Sam Sessoms, Jr. at a workout on August 13, 2020

But… Real life down the Bottom is getting in the way. The absence of the code has never been more obvious.

On May 17, 2021 at approximately 3:30 pm, Sessoms’ 6 year sister was shot in the leg while playing with friends outside the family home on the 3800 block of Wyalusing Avenue. This was a high profile shooting of an innocent child in broad daylight. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw noted that the girl’s parents were inside a vehicle when the shots rang out. Some of those bullets did hit the windshield but no other victims were struck. According to Outlaw, a group of men were running toward the children around the time of the shooting. “We do know that there was information that there was a vehicle, a dark-colored sedan, that was following the group of males that was running prior to the shooting,” said Outlaw.

What “code”? They are shooting 6 year-old girls jumping rope on the sidewalk in front of their home.

Sessoms’ father, Samuel Sessoms, Sr. is friend of mine and at the time, he told me was trying to move his family away from his beloved Bottom. His daughter fully recovered and, shortly thereafter, Sessoms, Sr. moved his family across town to the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia away from daily violence permeating the Mantua streets.

At least, that’s what he thought.

On September 16, 2021, exactly 4 months after his little sister was shot in front of the family home, two shooters walked up onto the porch of the new family home and fired at least eight shots into the home, striking Sessoms’ 19-year-old brother, Sidney and his father Sam, Sr.

His brother, Sidney, later died at the hospital. His father is listed in critical but stable condition.

As reported by 6ABC.com, “Minutes after the gunfire rang out, police responded and a witness was able to alert police to an area where the shooters fled. Soon after, officers found a male suspect running. That’s when the suspect started to shoot at officers, according to investigators.”

“We believe that our suspect fired at least six shots at two or three uniform police officers. They are very, very lucky, they didn’t get hit. They didn’t return fire because there was a lot of people out on the streets, but they did chase this individual who was firing shots at them,” said Chief Inspector Scott Small with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Police were able to apprehend the assailant and he is now behind bars.

In a 4 month span, Sessoms’ sister, brother and father have been shot. His sister and father were seriously injured but expected to fully recover, his brother did not make it.

So now, when he should be focused on his studies and preparing to lead the Nittany Lions through the Big 10 gauntlet, Sessoms has to muster up the intestinal fortitude to lead his family through these very trying times. Facing yet another move just a few months after the last move and unexpected funeral expenses, Sessoms has launched a GoFundMe campaign:

“Hey, my name is Sam Sessoms and I am launching this fundraiser to help cover my little brother’s funeral expenses and also help move my family to a different location. My little brother and father was recently shot multiple times inside of our home. My father has been in surgery all morning but he is making progress. Unfortunately, my little brother did not make it. We have to cover the expenses to that and also find a new home. Our house is completely damaged and we are being forced to move. Life is hard right now, and I truly need all of you guys support for me and the family. Please donate so we can lay my baby brother to rest and also have a roof over our heads. We do not care if it is 1$, please help us.”

Please Donate:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-cover-my-family-funeral-expenses-and-move

This brief video from an interview I conducted in March 2020, gives you a look inside the dynamics of the relationship between Sam, Jr. and Sam, Jr. Both are my friends. Both are real men. Both live their lives by a code that no longer exists.

These are real men. Sam is a Nittany Lion and, I am sure, Happy Valley will wrap their arms around him and lift his family in their time of need.

#WeAre!

Donta Scott and the University of Maryland: A Match Made in Heaven

Seven years ago, I was watching the coaching staff of the nationally prominent St. Joseph’s Prep (PA) football team conduct clinic for the Darby Township Eagles Youth Football Club on a hot August day. One of my good friends approached me with a lanky teen in tow. Howard Hudson, a longtime grassroots basketball coach, had a strong track record of identifying and developing really talented basketball prospects very early.

“He’s next… I’m telling you, he is the next one.”

Howard was pointing toward a 6’4” 13 year old rising 8th grader named Donta Scott. Over the years, hundreds of coaches and parents have introduced me to kids and made similar predictions. My response is always the same, I urge caution. All too often, anointed middle school prodigies are passed by their late blooming peers.

“Ok.. Ok… Howard… I’ll catch him when he’s playing varsity high school basketball.”

I just don’t find middle school basketball very appealing, same with freshman and junior varsity competition. Generally speaking, I start paying attention when the kids put on the varsity HS uniform. But, I knew Howard was dead serious about Donta and I figured I would hear about Donta down the line.

Almost a year later, Howard reached out again as Donta and his parents were narrowing down their high school options. As Howard had predicted, Donta had emerged as one of the top 8th grade prospects in the mid-Atlantic region. He had a lot of options including some of the top private, public and Catholic high schools in the region.

A loyal coach with old school values and sensibilities, Howard wanted to help Donta make a high school choice and then see him graduate from that school four years later. We both disdain the school-hopping that prevails among elite HS student-athletes these days. Howard wanted him to have a complete and fulfilling high school experience. I agreed completely with Howard’s approach and felt that far too many of the top student-athletes end up attending 2, 3 or even 4 schools over the course of their scholastic career.

Sandra Campbell and her son Donta Scott at the University of Maryland

During the course of the school selection process, Donta’s mother, Sandra Campbell, shared his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with Howard. Sandra wanted to make sure that Donta’s educational needs were fully understood, considered and that an adequate plan would be in place to meet these needs. Howard, Donta and I discussed the importance of the next four years of Donta’s educational developments.

We made sure that Donta understood that he “learned differently” and that he was entitled to certain accommodations and supports to ensure that he could succeed in HS and beyond. Donta, while reticent about his feelings, was extremely attentive to everything that was said about him during these meetings. As a 14 year old, he was reluctant to speak up. But he would make comments and ask questions after the meetings were concluded making it very clear that he fully understood his academic situation. Moreover and more importantly, he grasped what he needed to accomplish to meet his goals of qualifying for and accepting a basketball scholarship.

After considering several private and catholic options, Donta and his parents chose to attend Imhotep Charter High School. While Imhotep is one of the most prominent and successful high school basketball programs in the country, the decision to attend was based primarily on the strength of the special education program and the commitment of coach Andre Noble to holding Donta accountable in the classroom.

With the support of the Imhotep teaching staff and the steadfast encouragement of Coach Noble and his staff, Donta easily exceeded NCAA eligibility requirements.

His four year run, as a starter, at Imhotep on the court will go down as one of the greatest in the history of Philadelphia Scholastic basketball. Donta never lost a regular season Public League game. His teams were routinely ranked in the top 10 nationally and he led the Panthers to 3 state championships as well as wins over programs like Camden, Montverde and Oak Hill.

The University of South Carolina offered Donta a scholarship when he was a sophomore. Over the next couple of years he would receive offers from La Salle, Saint Jospeh’s, Temple, Seton Hall, Penn State, Auburn, Florida and Maryland among others.

Just as we had during Donta’s HS selection process, Howard and I held his hand during the college recruitment process. I told Donta we were like “training wheels”. During the first couple of college visits Howard and I would take the lead during discussions about Donta’s academic background and goals.

We would document academic accommodations, advocate for needed accommodations & services, identify his interests, abilities, talents, needs, learning style preferences and goals. Donta would always listen intently. Then one day, while we were visiting Penn State and entering a meeting with the academic support staff for student-athletes, Donta took the “training wheels” off.

“I got it.”

With those words, he let us know that he was taking control of this process. He proceeded to eloquently discuss his learning “style” and probe the academic counseling staff regarding their approach and the supports they had in place.

From that moment forward, Howard and I took a back seat and Donta assumed full control of his academic development. Ultimately, he chose to attend the University of Maryland. Truth be told, his decision was based in large part on the level of comfort he felt with the Maryland academic support staff. Donta felt comfortable on and off the court during his visits to Maryland.

Donta Scott

After a brief period of adjustment and a very minor hiccup during his first summer session, Donta has done very well academically. His GPA has hovered around the 3.0 range and he is ahead of pace to graduate on time. Howard and I have repeatedly told Donta that he is a role model for young middle and high school students that learn differently and struggle academically. He has gradually accepted this role.

Armed with academic confidence built up over two years in College Park, Donta has written a children’s book, WIRED DIFFERENTLY: My School Journey, that will be published by Black Cager Press next month. His book is intended to help parents and students with learning disabilities navigate the high school selection and matriculation processes. Everything was proceeding as planned.

On August 15, 2021, Howard and I met at Donta’s family home in Norristown to spend a few moments with him and his family. It was a beautiful summer day. We laughed, we joked with Donta… under a bright summer sun. We talked cars with his stepfather and then we went on our way.

And then mother nature intervened…

Two weeks later, on September 1, 2021 Hurricane Ida finally made her way from the Gulf Coast to the Philadelphia region. She brought along torrential rainfall. So much so that the banks of the Schuylkill River quickly gave way and the dark, nasty, coffee colored floodwater spread across Norristown and quickly enveloped Donta’s entire neighborhood. The murky, smelly water invaded their home and spared none of their belongings. In a matter of hours, everything was lost…

Everything…

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/university-of-maryland-basketball-team-helps-norristown-family-devastated-by-flood/2958551/

Fortunately, the fire company rescued the family by boat and carried them to safety. For the past two weeks, Donta’s mother and the rest of his family have resided in hotel rooms as they struggled to regain their bearings. Donta has tried mightily to balance his responsibilities as a college student, leader of one of the nation’s top college basketball programs and a loving son, brother and uncle.

Ultimately, he decided to do what he could within NCAA rules…

“I got it.”

Earlier today (September 14, 2021) he organized a GoFundMe fundraiser and shared this message:

On September 1, 2021, my family and I were displaced from our home in Philadelphia due to the effects of Hurricane Ida. It caused extreme flooding throughout our home and my family was forced to evacuate. We aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to return. In a matter of hours we lost just about everything we owned. Water levels reached four feet high in our house. We lost TVs, laptops, dining room furniture, our entire family room set, kitchenware, clothing, bedding and countless other items. My family is currently forced to live out of a hotel and expenses are rising rapidly.
My mother Sandra has always been the rock of our family. I would not be where I am today without her. She has always worked so hard for our family to make ends meet.

I’m asking you to please consider helping my family get back on our feet. Any little bit will help during these difficult times. I know with your help and our faith we will manage to get through this. Thank you all for anything you can do to help.

Donta Scott #24

Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, Sr. and Hakim Hart, Jr. after clinching a share of the Big Title in 2020

As of 10:38 pm, the fundraiser had been active for 11 hours and Donta had accumulated $32,659 out of his $50,000 goal. His extended family has truly been embraced and lifted by his Terrapin family. Donta’s GoFundMe campaign will likely exceed his goal within 24 to 48 hours.

I was there when Donta first visited Maryland. I was there when he took his official visit. I was there when he made the decision to commit to Maryland. I was there when he moved into his apartment.

There were some prominent naysayers that questioned his decision to join the Terps. Never once, not for a millisecond has Donta wavered in his commitment to the University of Maryland. He is truly a Terp for life. In the face of tremendous adversity, he has discovered that the larger Maryland community loves and values him and his family.

#GoTerps

Black Cager Fall Classic Returns with Local and National Power House Programs Set to Compete

September 3, 2021 (Camden, NJ) – Black Cager Sports is proud to announce the return of the Fall Classic Pre-Season Basketball Tournament. Some of the nation’s finest scholastic squads will hit the courts at Charger Nation for the two day event from Saturday, September 18 to Sunday, September 19.

“We feel this year may be the best version of the Fall Classic since we started in 2016. The quality and the depth of the basketball talent is exceptional and will lead to exciting games as some of the best high school players on the eastern seaboard have the chance to showcase their abilities. Many of the players have offers from BIG 10, SEC, ACC, AAC, A10 and Big East programs,” said Delgreco Wilson, Founder of Black Cager Sports.

Duece Jones, Trenton Catholic Prep Academy sophomore PG

Most importantly, this years Fall Classic is sponsored by Black Cager Academic Advising. As a result, every participating school will receive 2 free NCAA Eligibility/Transcript Evaluations. The academic evaluation reports helps student-athletes, parents, AAU coaches and college coaches make more informed decisions during the recruitment process.

An academic evaluation report from Black Cager Academic Advising will:
• Identify the academic documents being evaluated
• Include our statement of progress toward NCAA eligibility
• Include your Core Course Grade Point Average and total Core Credits
• Describe our evaluation methodology
• Be certified by the evaluator (with certification stamp and signature)
• Be emailed and/or mailed in an ‘evaluation sealed & stamped envelope’

The iconic Fall Classic pre-season tournament has hosted many future high major college superstars over the years. Since it’s establishment in 2016, the Black Cager Fall Classic has welcomed in the next generation of top East Coast ballers. The most recent wave of talent has included Kentucky sophomore forward, Lance Ware, Villanova freshman forward, Nnanna Njoku and Temple freshman point guard Hysier Miller. Other Fall Classic Alums include Collin Gillspie (Villanova), Rahsool Diggins (UConn), Jaylen Stinson (JMU), Jahmir Brickus (La Salle), Lynn Greer III (Dayton), Seth Lundy (Penn State), Ace Baldwin (VCU) and Bernard Lightsey (Lincoln).

There are remaining slots for this year’s event. We also hope to have a few of the top girls teams participate.

Derek Simpson, Lenape Senior PG, Rutgers Commit

Some of the the top players include:
Jahnathan Lamothe (#44 Rivals c/o 2023, St. Frances Academy, Undecided)
Javon Adams (c/o 2022, Olympus Prep, Undecided)
Anthony Finkley (c/o 2023 West Catholic, Undecided)
Kaseem Watson (c/o 2022 West Catholic, Undecided)
Kareem Watson (c/o 2022 West Catholic, Undecided)
Zion Stanford (c/o 2023 West Catholic, Undecided)
Bryce Lindsay (c/o 2022, Bishop Walsh, Undecided)
Derek Simpson (c/o 2022 Lenape, Rutgers Commit)
TJ Robinson (c/o 2024 Bishop Walsh, Undecided)
Kobe Magee (c/o 2022 Executive Education, Drexel Commit)
Michael “Deuce” Jones (c/o 2024 Trenton Catholic Academy, Uncommitted)
Jeremiah Bembry (c/o 2022 Executive Education, Undecided)
Cortez Johnson (c/o 2022 St. Frances Academy, Undecided)
Daniel Alcantara (c/o 2022 Reading, Undecided)
Ruben Rodriguez (c/o 2024 Reading, Undecided)
Justin Moore (c/o 2022 Archbishop Wood, Undecided)
Jacob Beccles (c/o 2022 Constitution, Undecided)
Jahiem Bethea (c/o 2022 MCS, Undecided)
Robert Wright III (c/o 2024 Neumann-Goretti, Undecided)
Kaafiq Myers (c/o 2024 Neumann-Goretti, Undecided)
Niame Scott (c/o 2023 Conwell-Egan, Undecided)

The Fall Classic welcomes several new teams to tournament:
• Bishop Walsh HS (MD)
• Players from Gwynn Park HS (MD)
• Lenape HS (NJ)
• Muhlenberg HS (PA)
• Conwell-Egan HS (PA)

Locally, this season’s event welcomes three of the top teams in the state of Pennsylvania, including 6A State Champion Reading HS, Philadelphia Catholic League Champion Archbishop Wood, District 1 power Plymouth-Whitemarsh as all perennial state title contenders Neumann-Goretti and Constitution.

Reading HS 2021, State Champions

The 2021 Fall Classic will run four sessions – with morning and afternoon sessions featuring four games each on both days of the event.

“We are very excited to have our basketball program to participate in a tournament that has become an East Coast tradition,” said St. Frances Academy Head Coach, Nick Myles. “The opportunity to play against some of the top talents in the Mid-Atlantic region will prepare us for the long season ahead.”

Black Cager Sports has partnered with Charger Nation, a regional sports management company, to manage all event operations. Charger Nation has worked with many of the regions leading basketball organizations and teams including Catholic, Private and Public school programs. Charger Nation has managed hundreds of grassroots and AAU events.

For more information on the tournament, follow @BlackCagerFallClassic on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

About Black Cager Sports
Black Cager Sports aims to raise academic outcomes through athletics for high school participants throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region. Black Cager sports has touched the lives of more than 200 young people, over the last decade, boosting the graduation and college acceptance rates of its members to about 95%. Many program participants credit the program’s encouragement, tutoring, and guidance with setting them up for success in college admissions and beyond. “They were the first people to actually sit me down and say, ‘Hey, you can do it. This is exactly how you can achieve your goals. You can go to college,’” says Taquan Woodley, a class of 2021 alumnus.  “They really believed in me before I even believed in myself.”

Mike Vreeswyk on the Lessons Taught by John Chaney

by Eric Dixon

Philadelphia, PA – August 23, 2021 – “All of this happened very quickly.  It was at that point Chaney leaped to his feet and yelled “HE JUST WALKED”!!  So the ref blew the whistle a split second later and called a traveling violation.  I’m sitting there thinking my coach just complained about traveling ON HIS OWN TEAM!” recalled Mike Vreeswyk, the former Temple forward and 1995 Big 5 Hall of Fame inductee. 

Mike Vreeswyk and Hall of Fame Temple Coach, John Chaney

This was just one of the many anecdotes Vreeswyk shared with me over email and lunch near his Bucks County home. He compiled a collection of these memories initially shared as social media posts. Some were funny, while others were cautionary, but all were interesting and packed with the lessons he’d learned under legendary head coach, John Chaney, and his experience playing nine plus seasons overseas in locales from Belgium to Japan. 

Through these stories Vreewyk paints an endearing portrait of Coach Chaney, the irascible, foul-mouthed, loving, caring, compassionate and dedicated “builder of men” who “saved lives by offering opportunities”. Chaney, as he did so many who played under him when he stalked the sidelines as head coach at Temple University (1982-2006), left an indelible impression on Vreeswyk, teaching him life lessons that he carried to places beyond his wildest dreams. In winning 741 games as a coach, Chaney did a great job preparing his players to win games. He probably did a better job preparing those young men to win at life.

Howie Evans, Mike Vreeswyk and John Chaney

Vreeswyk came from humble beginnings, enduring many familial hardships, including poverty that drove him to find solace and respite in the confines of the basketball court. It was his safe place after his parents divorced and his world began to crumble. This cauldron of instability and insecurity forged him into a hardworking, humble player with a healthy respect for the scarcity of opportunities and the need to capitalize on them. It would also lead him to an eventual appreciation for the man he came to love and respect. At first he avoided Chaney because he was put off and a bit fearful of his loud and often profane methods of verbal communication. However, as he said in a quote that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in connection with Chaney’s induction into the Basketball Hall of fame, he began to be drawn to his wisdom.

“As a freshman I stayed away as much as possible because he was always arguing, fussing, and yelling at me about turnovers and defense.  As a sophomore some of it started to sink in and I actually would drop by the basketball office in between some classes and occasionally in the summer.  As a junior it hit me for the first time that my time in the presence of such knowledge is waning.  The yelling didn’t matter anymore; I wanted to be around coach as much as possible.  As a senior, pure fear set in as I spent seemingly every waking hour with him to soak up as much as I could, knowing it would end soon. And it wasn’t all basketball. Congratulations, coach Chaney, and thanks.” – Philadelphia Inquirer, 2001.

Temple Owls 1987-88, Ranked Number 1 in the Nation

After some uncertainty as to where he would attend HS, the two-time Pennsylvania All-State honoree that broke the scoring records at Morrisville High School chose Temple from amongst 100 or so schools that vied for his services. What came next was a “shocking. . . slap in the face”. The 2000 point scorer who averaged 34 ppg his senior year would find himself nailed to Chaney’s bench his freshman season, which he finished with a poultry 1.5 ppg. “I just had to get better,” said Vreeswyk, who credited his teammates, especially Nate Blackwell, for helping him get through the difficult year.

The following year he would learn the first of the most important lessons he learned under Chaney: “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready”. Vreeswyk began his sophomore year in a familiar place, the bench. However, after a handful of games where the players in front of him were ineffective, Chaney gave him an opportunity to “earn his trust”. And “Threeswyk”, as he became known, seized it. “I worked hard and I knew I was ready”. 

Another important lesson Chaney imparted to him was the importance of “Understanding one’s self. Know your strengths and weaknesses”. Another facet of that is learning how to thrive in difficult, uncomfortable situations. This lesson helped Vreeswyk endure two separate injuries he suffered in Europe in 1997. A torn meniscus and broken nose threatened to end his campaign but a willingness to endure a surgery he watched and an excruciating procedure to straighten his nose allowed him to continue to play. 

A practical lesson he learned was the value of being punctual and prepared. However, Chaney was not satisfied with just making sure a player was responsible for his own punctuality and preparedness, he also insisted that he be responsible for his roommate as well. On one occasion Vreeswyk found himself darting through an airport concourse frantically in search of a tie because his roommate refused to take the dress code mandate seriously enough. Unfortunately his efforts were fruitless and his roommate travelled to an away contest in Charlotte, NC without the requisite tie and jacket Chaney insisted upon. The roommate was sent home the same day while Chaney chewed Vreeswyk out for not being able to properly assist his roommate.

“Be a good person,” he said, recounting one of the most important lessons he still carries today. Vreeswyk is active in his community and believes in giving back as often as possible. “I never turned anyone down when they ask me to speak at a camp or something” because Vreeswyk understands the impact he can have on people who have watched him over the years and he wants that impact to be a positive one.

CareerPath of Thomas Caban: The Trade School Route

August 22, 2021 – Camden, New JerseyThomas Caban is a bright young man of Puerto Rican descent. Thomas lives in Camden, New Jersey. He is also a recent high school graduate. Thomas is in the midst of transitioning from high school to the world of competitive employment. Thomas is forgoing the college path and taking the trade school route. This is really not surprising to anyone that knows Thomas. From the time he took his first steps, Thomas has been an inquisitive and eager boy with a strong love for cars.

John Donofrio, Service Manager at Mall Chevrolet and Thomas Caban

Thomas has decided to pursue a careerpath that would lead to employment as an automotive repair technician. He enrolled in the Dreamchasers Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) program last fall. Thomas expects Dreamchasers to help him navigate the complex process of becoming a certified automotive tech and obtain entry level employment as an auto technician once training is complete.

Thomas at Mall Chevrolet WBLE

While we discussed and explored other industries, his commitment to the auto industry never wavered. Thomas, his brother in-law and his father are all passionate about cars. His brother in-law is a certified truck mechanic and his father builds and races cars. Thomas is all in on the automotive industry. It’s in his blood.

Thomas during visit to Camden County Automotive Repair Program

Thomas is ready to work. He possesses the traits and skills that employers seek from most employees. Thomas worked as a cart attendant at Home Depot for more than six months, October 2020 – May 2021. Through direct observation of his work and discussions with his supervisors and co-workers it is apparent that Thomas has strong readiness skills. Thomas demonstrates the soft skills and employability skills desired by employers. Moreover, he has demonstrated an ability to identify and obtain entry level competitive employment. He currently works part-time in the maintenance department at the Bancroft School. He works 5pm to 9pm five days per week. He earns in excess of $16.00 per hour. Thomas has zero debt and lives with his parents.

Thomas is stable and seeks to begin his career as an auto technician. Thomas is determined to work in the US automotive repair and maintenance services industry. The Dreamchasers Pre-ETS program will assist him in determining where he will train and work. The US auto repair industry includes about 162,000 establishments (single-location companies and units of multi-location companies) with combined annual revenue of about $115 billion. There will always be a demand for repairs of cars. Thomas has chosen an in-demand industry.

Work-Based Learning Experience

Dreamchasers encourages Thomas to think about where he fits in this huge industry. The Pre-ETS program provides Thomas with extensive guidance as he gathers information and makes important educational and vocational choices. Toward that end, Thomas participated in a work-based learning experience at Mall Chevrolet in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Dreamchasers used the 15 bay service department of the largest volume Chevrolet dealer in Southern New Jersey to provide Thomas with the knowledge and skills that will help him connect school experiences to real-life work activities. Thomas was exposed to a fast paced, busy state of the art service repair operation for more than six weeks. He worked as an unpaid intern from 8am to 12pm, Monday through Wednesday.

So… Thomas, you say you want to be an auto technician? Dreamchasers put you next to auto technicians for six weeks to make sure that’s what you want to do. Are you still sure? You see the pace of the work? You see the technological knowledge requirements. You see how they apply mathematical skills to complete tasks as necessary? You see how they have to read and interprets repair manuals and documents? You will have to work hard Bro…

If you are sure you want to go down this path, we’re with you.

It was essential that Mall Chevrolet was the direct employer in the work-based learning experience. This ensured in-depth student engagement. Thomas reported to work just like everyone else in the service department. This opportunities was meant to engage, motivate and augment the learning process. Dreamchasers provides these work-based learning experiences in conjunction with private, for-profit, public or nonprofit businesses throughout New Jersey and through web-based resources.

Developing Strategies for Smooth Transition-High School to Automotive Training

Dreamchasers supports smooth transitions from high school to postsecondary education (PSE) by assisting with the following:

  • documenting academic accommodations
  • advocating for needed accommodations & services
  • promoting use of executive function skills
  • assisting with researching career & PSE options
  • promoting participation in PSE preparation classes, etc.
  • connecting to PSE resources/ services/websites
  • promoting use of self-advocacy skills
  • assisting with application/ enrollment process
  • identifying financial aid options
  • familiarizing with education and vocational laws
  • identifying technology needs
  • identifying admission tests accommodations
  • applying for Vocational Rehabilitation services, if eligible
  • providing PSE information to family members
  • accessing services & supports from developmental/ intellectual disabilities service agency, if eligible

Dreamchasers fosters maximum flexibility in the career decision making process, especially in the early phases of Post-Secondary Education (PSE) planning.  We tried to get Thomas to consider alternate careerpaths. He is very firm in his decision to become an auto technician. He was exposed to wide range of career pathway options and labor market realities and projections. Thomas made his decision and embarked upon the search for a training program that could help him reach his goal.

Thomas visiting Training Programs

Support While in the Training Program

Dreamchasers is steadfast in our commitment to self-determination. We strongly adhere to the belief that all individuals have the right to direct their own lives. Young people who have self-determination skills have a stronger chance of being successful in making the transition to adulthood, including employment and independence. Dreamchasers will continue to provide Thomas with extensive instruction in selfadvocacy. The goal will be to improve his ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his/her own interests and/or desires. Dreamchasers wants to see Thomas have the freedom to plan his own life, pursue the things that are important to him and to experience the same life opportunities as others in their communities.

Dreamchasers Instruction on Self-Advocacy includes:

  • self -awareness
  • decision making
  • set goals
  • evaluate options
  • identify independence
  • accommodations
  • request & utilize accommodations
  • know your rights & responsibilities
  • self-determination
  • know how to request & accept help
  • intrinsic motivation
  • taking a leadership role
  • in support plans
  • assertiveness
  • listen to others opinions
  • problem solving
  • monitor progress
  • positive self-talk

Thomas has made his decision, he applied for admission to Respond, Inc.’s Automotive Repair Program. Dreamchasers will be right there with Thomas as he makes his way though this rigorous and rewarding program.

Do you want to LEARN2WORK?

Trying to figure it out?

Contact:

Delgreco K. Wilson

Dreamchasers Community Services, LLC

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS Program)

dwilson@dreamchaserscommunityservices.com – email

929-499-7999 – telephone

Calculating Black Cager Academic Index for Philadelphia Public/Charter High Schools

The Black Cager Academic Index is designed to help parents, students and student-athletes make informed High School enrollment decisions. The Black Cager Academic Index scores allows parents to compare and contrast the extent to which schools are producing students that satisfy the requirements of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). The Black Cager Academic Index is based on the Keystone Exam score results for each school.

The Keystone Exams are state-mandated end-of-course assessments in Algebra I, Biology and Literature. Each Keystone Exam is divided into two parts called modules. Student scores are based on the total points earned from the two modules combined. The scores are then broken down into the following categories: Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic. Students must score in the Advanced or Proficient range to show mastery of the content. Basic and Below Basic scores do not demonstrate mastery and are considered failing scores.


Students must take a Keystone exam at the end of each of the Keystone-assessed courses. (i.e.: At the end of the year, students in Biology will take the Biology Keystone Exam.) Per state law, the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires schools to put the highest level of proficiency level for each Keystone exam on the student’s transcript.

Algebra 1 – Black Cager Academic Index Calculation
(%Advanced * 2) + (% Proficient) – (% Basic) – (% Below Basic * 2)

Biology – Black Cager Academic Index Calculation
(%Advanced * 2) + (% Proficient) – (% Basic) – (% Below Basic * 2)

Literature – Black Cager Academic Index Calculation
(%Advanced * 2) + (% Proficient) – (% Basic) – (% Below Basic * 2)

Individual HS – Black Cager Academic Index
(Algebra 1 Index + Biology Index + Literature Index)/3

If 100% of the students score in the Advanced range for Algebra 1, the school’s Black Academic Index for Algebra 1 will be 200.

(100 * 2) + (0) – (0) – (0 * 2) = 200

If 100% of the students score in the Below Basic range for Algebra 1, the school’s Black Academic Index for Algebra 1 will be -200.

(0 * 2) + (0) – (0) – (100 * 2) = -200

Thus, the range for the Black Cager Academic Index for each of the three (3) subject areas is 200 to -200.

The range for the Black Cager Academic Index for the High School as a whole is calculated by adding the three (3) subject area scores together and dividing the total by three.

Thus the range for the Black Cager Academic Index for each of the Public/Charter High School is also 200 to -200.

The scores will be ranked and accssible to any parent, student or student-athlete considering enrollment in or a transfer to any Philadelphia Public/Charter school.

Community Leaders Converge on Wildwood, NJ for a “Community Walk”

August 10, 2021 (Wildwood, New Jersey) – The Cape May County Coalition for a Safe Community sponsored a Community Walk in Wildwood, New Jersey on August 10, 2021. The Acting New Jersey State Attorney General Andrew Buck, Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, Assemblyman Antwan McClellan and a host of other civic and community leaders walked together through the Wildwood community in unity. This innovative event was organized to help build, meaningful and authentic relationships within Wildwood City, Cape May County and Southern New Jersey.

Mayor Byron (l) and Assemblyman McClellan (r)

The event organizers and community leaders have recognized that social capital and engagement have declined in areas such as organizational membership, attending religious services, attending club meetings, and interacting with others face-to-face in communities. These authentic interactions are the glue that binds strong communities. The Cape May County Coalition for a Safe Community is diligently working to address the deficit in social capital that is harming individuals, communities, and America.

Assemblyman McClellan (l), Attorney General Bruck (c) and Temple Freshman Zach Hicks (r)

Attorney General Bruck, Mayor Byron and Assemblyman McClellan are committed to reversing this trend and revitalizing New Jersey’s social capital. The Cape May County Coalition for a Safe Community is an important vehicle through which crucial work is being done to strengthen connections among neighbors. The Community Walk is a prime example of the ways in which volunteering, reciprocity, and trust in others can positively impact New Jersey communities. Hundreds of children eager to return to learning environments after a year marred by the Covid-19 pandemic received FREE Book Bags & School Supplies.

IUP sophomore Jalen Hudson (l), Temple Freshman Zach Hicks (c) and Kenneth Fowlkes, Office of Resilience (r)

Kenneth Fowlkes, Supervisor of the New Jersey Office of Resilience, traveled from Trenton to Cape May County to participate in the walk. “My office is dedicated to creating opportunities to eradicate Adverse Childhood Experiences through grassroots and community-led efforts, technical assistance and strategic support for organizations already pursuing this work. The important work of The Cape May County Coalition for a Safe Community falls squarely into the purview of what we are attempting to achieve. We fully support Mayor Byron and Assemblyman McClellan’s efforts here in Cape May County. We need more of these initiatives.”

Zach Hicks (l) and Jalen Hudson (r) with Wildwood Youth

Dreamchasers Community Services brought a couple collegiate student-athletes to participate in the Community Walk. Zach Hicks, a freshman scholarship basketball player at Temple University and Jalen Hudson, a sophomore scholarship football player at Indiana University of Pennsylvania were eager to help out. Hicks said, “I spend a lot of time in Wildwood and I always enjoy myself. Anything I can to to help this strengthen community I will do. I look forward to coming back to Wildwood every summer.”

Hudson echoed Hicks, “My friends and I love Wildwood. When I was younger, a lot of adults helped me understand the importance of being a high character individual. I try to instill that message in kids every chance I get.” Delgreco Wilson, Dreamchasers Director of Youth Programs was impressed with the gathering on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon.

Wilson stated, “Dreamchaser looks forward to working with the Cape May County Coalition for a Safe Community to help young NJ residents develop and refine job skills. We are committed to serving this community and will be reaching out to schools and other youth serving organizations over the next month or so. Attorney General Bruck, Mayor Byron and Assmblyman McClellan are doing exactly what needs to be done. The way to truly make a difference is to interact with others face-to-face in the community. I am grateful that they invited Dreamchasers to participate.”

The “Best” Guard in the Region: DJ Wagner is Sitting in the Big Chair

The reign of Camden High’s DJ Wagner has commenced, but there are several really talented kids vying for the throne.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

You never know if a player is gonna jump up and stake a viable claim to the top spot. We’ve seen it several times in recent years, guys come outta nowhere and attempt to stage a coup d’etat. For example, Collin Gillespie (Archbishop Wood) leapt from the bushes waged a relentless and highly successful campaign in 2017. Last season, Hysier Miller (Neumann-Goretti) stalked Rahsool Diggins (Archbishop Wood) until his quest was cut short by overzealous Catholic League coaches acting like Detective Columbo. In the end, one of the most anticipated playoff matchups in recent memory never came to fruition… A FUCKIN SHAME! Nonetheless, from a fan’s perspective, the anticipation, discussions, disagreements and arguments are essential components of each high school season.

DJ Wagner

God willing, we will be able to watch it all play out on the hardwood this year.

Of course, it’s a debate that is never quite settled… Every year, as August comes into view, the parameters start to come into focus. Contenders are identified and “street” publicists, lawyers and agents start to build their cases.

With intense passion positions are staked and fiercely argued by loyal partisans:

“Lynn Greer is, by far, the best guard in the area.”

“You buggin… Lil’ Sool is that dude.”

“Wooga… Wooga… and then Wooga, those are my top 3.”

“Fabb is the best… Do you watch the games?”

For hoop heads hailing from Southern, Midwestern and Western parts of the country, the question is typically framed as follows: Who’s the best “Philly guard”? They lump Camden, Chester, Trenton, Coatesville, Norristown and even Wilmington into one big “Philly” regional basketball region.

To me, the expansion of the concept makes a great deal of sense.

It’s not as simple as it was when Andre McCarter (Overbrook) and Mo Howard (SJ Prep) were wreaking havoc in the early 1970s.

Andre McCarter

Things are very different these days…

“Philly guards” aren’t necessarily from Philly any more. For present purposes, the category is conceptualized much more loosely than in the past. “Philly” is conceptualized in more of a cultural than geographic sense. Indeed, since Black Cager Sports was founded in 2013, we have steadfastly held that zip codes are almost irrelevant these days. Kids come from near and far to play in the Philadelphia’s Public League, Catholic League, Inter-Ac League, Friends League, South Jersey and Delaware.

Moreover, shoe company sponsored basketball clubs like Philly Pride, Team Final, K-Low Elite, WER1 and the NJ Scholars have further blurred the lines as they have drown the most talented players from far and far.

That’s not to say there isn’t disagreement on this issue… There is…

Chester is always gonna feel that it is separate and distinct. Same with hoops hotbeds like Camden, Reading, Trenton and Coatesville.

I get it… I really do… But when discussing scholastic and grassroots basketball, I just prefer to be inclusive… Especially, when performing comparisons and ranking of the elite players.

Larger sample sizes result in smaller margin of error. After all, the goal as I understand it, is to actually unearth and recognize the finest players.

I was introduced to basketball in the small proud community of Darby Township, population around 3,000. My high school teammate, Geoff Arnold, found himself in this discussion in the early 1980s. Bruiser Flint (Episcopal), Howie Evans (West Philadelphia), Mike Anderson (Engineering & Science), Nate Blackwell (Southern), Troy Daniels (Lamberton) and Pooh Richardson (Ben Franklin) were some of the elite guards in the region during that era. Geoff, from Darby Township, was right there with them.

Thus, it made never made sense to me to exclude great players like Penn Wood’s Rap Curry, Chester’s Jameer Nelson and Norristown’s Marqus Green when discussing the area’s finest guards during their respective careers. They were some bad muthafuckas! They had to be considered in any discussion of the very best guards.

Recent years have seen some really memorable tussles for the Big Chair.

Rysheed Jordan

Neumann-Goretti’s Tony Chennault, Strawberry Mansion’s DJ Newbill and Bartram’s Tyrone Garland vied for the throne. They were followed by Maurice Watson, Jr. (Boy’s Latin) and Steve Vasturia (SJ Prep). Imhotep’s Brandon Austin and Vaux legend, Rysheed Jordan waged some unforgettable battles. Of course, Jaquan Newton, for many observers, ruled his era. Tony Carr (Roman) and Samir Doughty (MCS) ruled for a year or so. Then Fatts Russell (Imhotep) and Booty Butler (Del-Val/O’Hara) were at the head of the pack. The debates surrounding Neumann-Goretti’s Quade Green and Archbishop Wood’s Collin Gillespie were especially intense. Meanwhile, the legend of Lonnie Walker (Reading) came to be in Berks County. Isaiah Wong (Bonner-Prendie) came in from Jersey and held off Lynn Greer (Roman) and the rest of the challengers for a couple years.

Collin Gillespie

AJ Hoggard (Carroll) appeared to be the heir apparent and then he took his ball to Huntington Prep in West Virginia after his sophomore season. Down in Delaware, Bones Hyland (St. George’s Tech) was dropping 50s left and right. His feats were not adequately appreciated at the time. Gillespie’s successor, Rahsool Diggins (Wood) came forth, held off a worthy challenge from Neumann-Goretti’s Hakim Byrd and sat firmly in the big chair.

This past season, Wooga Poplar (MCS) and Hysier Miller (Neumann-Goretti) really challenged Diggins for the big chair. It must be noted that yet another Berks County legend, Stevie Mitchell (Wilson West Lawn) emerged and forced himself squarely into the conversation. Unfortunately, one can only imagine how good it would have been to settle things on the basketball court.

Hysier Miller

In what will go down as stain on the history of scholastic basketball in Philadelphia, Miller’s majestic season was cut short after it was determined that one of his teammates played 1 or 2 games over the limit in California before returning to the Catholic League. As a result, the fans were denied an opportunity to see Diggins and Miller compete for the Catholic League Championship.

So, what now… Is Wagner firmly entrenched in the big chair?

Of course, there is no definitive answer… It’s all speculation… But, damn it’s fun!

Man your battle stations!

Last year, when I publicly argued that Miller, Diggins, Mitchell and Poplar were the premier scholastic guards, it caused an unexpected and severe backlash in some quarters. The supporters of Camden basketball and the prodigy felt that an act of blasphemy had been committed. This whole “comparison” exercise made no sense. This was a settled matter. God created Eve from Adam’s rib and DJ Wagner, at the tender age of 15, was the “best” guard in the region. If you didn’t agree you were either a “hater” or crazy.

Rahsool Diggins

By then, Wagner had emerged as the consensus number one player in his class. A gifted and complete basketball player, he was definitely worthy of inclusion and full consideration in any discussion of the best guards. Shit… I have argued that he was worthy of inclusion in the discussion at 14.

However, the question remained: Was Wagner at 15 already a better guard than Mitchell (Marquette), Diggins (UConn), Miller (Temple) and Poplar (Miami) at 18? After careful consideration, I concluded that he had not yet surpassed these high major prospects.

Not at 15… He was very close… He was knocking on the door… He nipping on their heels… But, he had not yet lapped them.

I soon realized that with that pronouncement, unbeknownst to me, I had entered into the realm of religion. I was questioning the Camden basketball Gods. It was as if I challenged 9 of the 10 Commandments. I was excommunicated. It became very clear that Black Cager Sports was no longer welcomed in bible study (practice/workouts) and church services (games). I discovered there was zero room for any discussion that did not begin from a point where young Mr. Wagner was already ensconced as the premier guard in this region.

I began to realize that Black Cager Sports mattered a LOT more than I ever thought it did.

So…. What about this year? Is it a settled matter? Are there others worthy of consideration?

In my opinion, Wagner has ascended and now sits in the big chair and, yes, there are others worthy of consideration. We have some things to talk about.

Chance Westry

Harrisburg’s Chance Westry (Hillcrest Prep) is an elite, savvy and mature 6’6” point guard with countless high major offers. He has elite vision, a tight handle and the ability to score in bunches. Is the 18 year old Westry as good as or better than Wagner right now? To me, that’s a fair question. It’s timely as we are in the midst of the EYBL season with Peach Jam coming up this week.

For some, by daring to pose such a question, I am confirming what they already suspect, I am a heathen. For the true believers, I am an unconverted member who is failing to acknowledge the God of the Bible.

Zion Cruz

Is Wagner better than Trenton’s Zion Cruz right now? To me that’s another fair question. Cruz is a very accomplished, athletic and highly coveted guard.

Is Wagner better Justice Williams right now? Williams has returned to the region after a year at Montverde Academy. He has committed to play for Will Wade at LSU in the SEC.

Is Wagner better than Derek Simpson right now? Simpson is another high major guard prospect in the region. Simpson has scholarship offers from A10, Big 10 and ACC programs. He is a very smooth and cerebral player with a very high upside.

Derek Simpson

Let me be clear… I am a fan of DJ Wagner.

Without a doubt, he is the most complete guard around these parts. He plays all aspects of the game very well. He is an excellent defender, rarely commits turnovers and makes big shot after big shot. Moreover, he respects the game and he respects his opponents. On the few occasions, I have interacted with him, I have come away amazed at how well he handles all the shit that comes with holding down the number 1 slot in his respective class.

Wagner is a great player, and more importantly, he is a highly intelligent, mature and thoughtful young man. He represents his parents, grandparents and the City of Camden extremely well at all times.

Indeed, he is probably finest guard in the area right now. I could easily see one making a case for putting Wagner in the big chair today.

I fully understand those argue he is the guy right now… I do…

What I don’t understand why they feel it’s blasphemous to put forth guys like Westry, Cruz, Williams or Simpson as contenders for the throne today. There has to be space for arguments and counterarguments. There has to be room for dissension.

Otherwise, we are in church.

If we all agreed, it wouldn’t be any fun.

I’m just trying to watch high school basketball. Check ball… The high school season is fast approaching and this debate will be settled on the hardwood. Or, maybe it won’t…

Next year, fans of Zxavier Brown (Roman), Deuce Jones (Ryan) and Ahmad Nowell (Houston) will be pushing for their guy and Wagner supporters will push back with vengance… As they should.