South Jersey Sports Report: “Regardless of the Outcome, the Whole Community is Still Behind Each Other”
PHILADELPHIA — Prior to resuming the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field on Wednesday afternoon, Pleasantville football coach Chris Sacco told his players to simply go out there and play their hearts out for their families, school and community, and whatever the scoreboard read at the end would have to live on its own. His message was succinct — simply by doing what they were doing, completing a game that was tragically interrupted by gunfire during the third quarter on Friday night, this group of Greyhounds had the opportunity to restore hope to the city of Pleasantville.
Before the team even arrived in Philadelphia, the players and coaches learned that Micah Tennant, the 10-year-old boy who was shot in the stands on Friday night, had died Wednesday morning, succumbing to the injuries he sustained from a senseless act of violence.
The weight of his death, combined with a range of emotions that swept through this team the past four days — plus a very talented Camden team on the other sideline — was simply too heavy a load for Pleasantville to carry. The Panthers scored a pair of touchdowns and two-point conversions in the roughly 17 minutes of game time that remained, and Camden won, 22-0, after carrying over the six points it already had from Friday night. Camden advances to play Cedar Creek in the sectional championship game on Nov. 30.
Rarely is a team heralded after a loss — and a playoff loss, at that — but Wednesday’s events were much bigger than whatever that giant scoreboard at The Linc read when it was all said and done. Following the game, Pleasantville players were greeted with well-deserved handshakes and hugs from parents and members of the community.
“I had a good feeling when I woke up this morning, but then we got the news (about Micah dying), and we were just thrown off. I’m still trying to bounce back from it,” said junior two-way lineman and captain Jesus Ruiz. “I wanted to show out today for my boy Micah — I have his name on my helmet for a reason. We didn’t get the win, but I know he’s still with us.”
“I think that’s why is more emotional than anything. I don’t even know if they are upset that we lost, and I don’t blame them if they are not. There are bigger things than the game. As much as we wanted this and as hard as we worked for it, there are bigger things in life and that’s on display right now,” Sacco said.
“Regardless of the outcome, the whole community is still behind each other,” added senior linebacker and captain Ernest Howard. “We have a walk for Micah on Saturday at noon. Everything is just in honor of him because he doesn’t get this opportunity anymore since he sadly passed away this morning. This loss does hurt at the end of the day, but this is for a bigger purpose.”
The game resumed with a few ticks less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, with Camden (9-2) possessing the ball at its own 30-yard line. The Panthers, leading 6-0, didn’t score on that possession but took valuable time off the clock as they sustained a drive into the fourth quarter. Pleasantville (8-3) stopped Camden on downs inside the Greyhounds’ 20-yard line, but Camden’s defense came up big on Pleasantville’s first possession, stopping the Greyhounds on downs. The Panthers took over at their own 41 with 8:38 left and sophomore running back Nasir Dale scampered 21 yards into the end zone. Quarterback Darian Chestnut then connected with Alijah Clark on the two-point conversion, giving the Panthers a 14-0 lead with just 5:53 to go.
An 75-yard interception return by Camden’s Dameir Burns set the Panthers up at the Pleasantville 15-yard line with just 2:06 remaining, and Chestnut put the game out of reach with a nine-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion run, pushing the score to 22-0.
But this quarter-and-a-half of football on a Wednesday afternoon was about much more than who won and who lost. Following the shooting on Friday night, in which three people were injured, nobody knew for several days if the game would even be finished, or when, or where. Howard said the Greyhounds made the decision together that they needed to get back out onto the field, to honor the fighting spirit of young Micah.
“At the end of the day, you don’t know how people are going to react to this type of tragic event. If (the younger guys) didn’t want to play, I was with them, but if they wanted to play I told them I was going to be here giving my all,” he said. “We all agreed to play, together, and come out here on this stage and give it our all no matter what happens.”
The Philadelphia Eagles stepped up and offered to host the game, with family members of the players and cheerleaders allowed to attend, along with media. The professional football franchise went all out, as coach Doug Pedersen and several Eagles players, among them star quarterback Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz, greeted players and coaches on the field prior to the game. The players also got to run out onto the field amid portable smoke stacks, just like the Eagles do on Sundays.
“At the end of the day, when they are able to sit back and the emotional part of the loss in the game goes away, they are going to be able to look back and say it was a cool experience,” Sacco said. “Everything today from the Eagles was first-class. They’re feeding us after, in the locker room they had magnets with the kids’ names on them — they really did it nice for the kids and made it feel like a special day.”
The players and coaches from both teams had to juggle being treated like stars by a professional football team with the heart-wrenching feeling of knowing Micah had died just hours before, which wasn’t easy for any of them.
“(What the Eagles did) means a lot. It was something crazy that we never experienced. It was nice, and we’re blessed to be here — not blessed for what happened on Friday, but just blessed to come out here and put on for Micah,” said Howard, who switched his jersey from No. 2 to No. 10 for this game in honor of Micah, who was just 10 years old. “It meant a lot to me walking through school today with the No. 10 jersey on, everybody knowing it was for Micah. There’s a bigger purpose with everything. Football has opened up my eyes leadership-wise, honesty, loyalty, determination, all types of things. Football makes you into a man and shows you things. It was hard for me, personally, to keep going and practicing hard knowing that Micah was still in the hospital and fighting for his life because he came to our game.”
“Football provides a great opportunity for everybody to come together and unite as one, and that’s what they have done. I think the sport did what it needed to do, there are just bigger things to worry about right now (than losing a game),” Sacco said. “The support we’ve had over the last four or five days from the community, and the way the players have handled themselves, it’s been unreal. We have a bunch of 14- to 18-year-olds handling this better than a lot of adults might, so I’m just really proud of them.”
Ruiz said that years from now, what he’ll remember most is young Micah, and what his life ultimately will mean to this Pleasantville community.
“This means a lot. I don’t know what to say. I feel bad we didn’t bring the win home, but as a community, as a city, I know they will still be there for us even though we didn’t win,” Ruiz said. “We’re not stopping from here, that’s a guarantee. We put it all out there for Micah. This little kid touched all of our hearts, and today we played for him.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays