Frankford and Boys Latin football teams will combine for a practice for peace at Frankford’s field in response to violence July 17.
Bill Sytsma wanted to do something.
So did his friend, Anthony Pastore.
Sytsma is the new football coach at Frankford High School, and Pastore is the head man at Boys Latin. The coaches are competitors and new Thanksgiving rivals on the football field, but they want the best for their players.
In the past year, they have each lost a player to gun violence.
Last year, Messiah Chiverton, a 16-year-old junior varsity football player at Frankford, was shot and killed after school.
Also last year, hours after Frankford won the rivalry game, one of the Boys Latin football players, Jahsun Patton, was shot and killed in Harrisburg.
That’s two too many deaths for the football coaches, and they knew they had to do something.
“I honestly can’t tell you what I’d do if I lost one of my players to violence,” said Sytsma, who took over the Pioneers after Dom Doyle resigned after last season. “I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m friends with Anthony and he called me and said we have to do something. I agree. We have to do whatever we have to do to make sure these types of things don’t happen again.”
Violence is a problem across the globe, and nobody seems to have an answer for it.
But Sytsma and Pastore came up with a plan to remind their players that violence is never the answer.
On July 17, the two teams will combine for a practice for peace at Frankford’s field.
It’s not a football practice, but a day for the two teams to join and unite, to talk about ways they can avoid violence.
There will be guest speakers, including former football players, and the two teams will just hang out and discuss problems. Conflict resolution will be the key topic, but it will also give the players a chance to get to know each other.
They can be rivals on the field, but they’ll also be friends.
“I’m not sure how it will work, but we have to do something and this seems like a step in the right direction,” said Sytsma, who graduated from North Catholic in 1997 and works at Frankford as a disciplinarian. “Both of us have really good kids on our team. We just want to teach them how they can handle things. It’s a way to keep them safe. They’re good kids, and we want to do whatever we can do to keep them safe.”
For Sytsma, coaching Frankford is a dream gig.
He’s been coaching football since he got out of North, including serving as the head coach of Neumann-Goretti for two years, and three years as an assistant at his alma mater.
He also coached four years in a professional football league in Italy, where he was the head coach of the Bari Wild Boars and the Terni Steelers.
Now he’s the coach of the school in the neighborhood he grew up in.
“I loved coaching in Italy, I really never wanted to leave there, but it worked out to come home,” said Sytsma, who has spent the past few seasons at Frankford, including last year, when he was the team’s offensive coordinator. “I love being here. It’s really a legendary place.
“The past few days, I’ve been working, cleaning up the locker room, I’m putting a new floor in, some new furniture, and I’m going through the locker room and I’m seeing photos from the 1920s, programs from the 1940s. There’s so much history with this program. The neighborhood loves it, and the players know that. They know that playing for Frankford is special.”
Being a North grad, Sytsma played against the Pioneers each year on Thanksgiving, so he got the tradition of the school long before he accepted a coaching job there. But now that he’s the head coach, he understands that he has a huge legacy to live up to.
“There haven’t been a whole lot of coaches there, and I know what a big responsibility it is to coach this school,” Sytsma said. “Al Angelo was there for years, and when I was at Frankford Tom Mullineaux was there. Then Mike Capriotti was there for a long time, and then (Will) Doggett and Dom (Doyle). There’s been some very good coaches there. I know it’s a big responsibility.”
But as much as he wants to build a winning football program, the thing he wants to do more is keep his players safe.
That’s the main reason he’s doing the Practice for Peace.
“The practice is just something we want to do to make sure everyone knows they can be safe,” Sytsma said. “It’s a chance for us to get together, for them to hear from other people to realize there’s ways to stay safe. Learn how to resolve problems without violence. It’s just something we think that’s worth trying. It should be a great day.” ••