Brushes with greatness

The Philadelphia Eagles and volunteers helped rebuild the Disston School playground and covered its facade with a mural on May 18. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

At 93 years, Tacony’s Hamilton Disston School is already more than four decades older than its namesake was when he died in 1896 after a visit to a Philadelphia theater with his wife.

So it’s understandable that the school was due for a facelift.

The Philadelphia Eagles played cosmetic surgeon on May 18 as they rebuilt the Disston School playground and covered about 10,000 square feet of its facade with a colorful mural inspired by the 890 children in kindergarten through eighth grade who learn there.

Even billionaire owner Jeffrey Lurie was in the schoolyard for the Playground Build, an annual community outreach project of the Eagles Charitable Foundation. Standing beneath some multi-story scaffolding and wielding an artist’s paintbrush, Lurie was among some 1,500 volunteers who helped to fill lead artist David McShane’s design with color. So were team President Don Smolenski, General Manager Howie Roseman, new head coach Doug Pederson, quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz, all-pro tackle Jason Peters and dozens of other players and staff.

City Councilman Bobby Henon and the city’s Mural Arts Program, under Jane Golden’s direction, initially proposed Disston as this year’s build site. They formulated a comprehensive plan with the help of the school administration and students, then convinced the Eagles to make it happen.

“You are building a community,” Henon said to the volunteers during a lunchtime ceremony. “It’s built by the children working with all of you. You have built a legacy right here at Disston School for the community.”

Mayor Jim Kenney, public schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite, the city’s Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney and Eagles Charitable Foundation President Christina Weiss Lurie were among the visitors. Disston Principal Kari Hill greeted the dignitaries.

“Today marks our 20th annual playground build,” Weiss Lurie said. “We look forward to this every year as an Eagles day of service.”

In addition to the mural, the build included the installation of new playground equipment, a synthetic turf playing field with a big Eagles logo on it and new basketball goals also featuring the logo.

“This is beyond words. I’m so grateful to everybody who collaborated in this project,” Hill said. “We really had nothing out here and now we have a whole lot.”

Community service is nothing new for defensive end Connor Barwin, who has been the team’s single nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the last two seasons for his efforts in his own foundation and Eagles charities, as well as his advocacy for sustainable living initiatives in Philadelphia and abroad.

“This is about what the Eagles and Christina Weiss Lurie started 20 years ago and they’ve gotten really good at it,” Barwin said. “I’m happy to be part of a team that values the community. It’s a fun day for everybody involved to give back and be part of the community.”

McShane, the lead artist on the mural, said Disston students and staff, Eagles staff and volunteers and Mural arts volunteers began painting the mural at about 9 a.m. and were about 70 percent complete by about 1 p.m. The images wrapped around the sides and rear of the three-story school building. They also painted a retaining wall around the property and an accessory trailer in the yard. Among the hundreds of students, 59 of their designs were chosen to be represented on the walls.

In the planning, students were asked to create individual designs to represent what they aspire to be as adults, what career paths they hope to pursue.

“A lot of the boys wanted to be football or basketball players, which is pretty typical,” McShane said. “And there were a few baseball players. There were doctors and musicians, auto mechanics, construction workers, firefighters and police.”

Sirens from a police escort signalled the arrival of the team bus at about 12:45 p.m. First off was Swoop, the mascot. Followed by the hulking players in their matching white “Dream Zone Team” T-shirts and green bucket hats. After the brief pep rally, they got to work.

“This is a perfect way for the players to work side-by-side with the kids,” McShane said. “It’s teamwork.”

“What a difference between a year ago and today,” Henon said. “Now the kids have a legacy and a safe place to play at recess.” ••

Eagles’ running back Wendell Smallwood autographed shirts for students. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

Paint, Eagles paint: The Philadelphia Eagles helped rebuild the Disston School playground and covered its facade with a mural on May 18. Above, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was among some 1,500 people who volunteered for Playground Build, an annual community outreach project of the Eagles Charitable Foundation. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES