Penn Wood’s Rahiem Bowens is as known for his colorful accessories as he is for his considerable talent on the football field.
The All-Delco defensive back likes to wear shoes and matching gloves that stand out in a crowd, and that won’t change in Thursday’s Hero Bowl at Cardinal O’Hara.
“I’m going to bring a little something Thursday night,” Bowens said. “I’ll have some cleats with a bright red in it, kind of like a bandanna theme.”
That’s interesting since Bowens is playing for Team Blue against Team Red in the 42nd annual Delaware County high school all-star football game. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. and kickoff is slated for 7:30. At halftime there will be an all-star 4 x 400-meter relay featuring some of the top senior runners in the county.
Tickets are $5, and all proceeds benefit the Hero Scholarship Fund of Delaware County, Inc., which provides scholarship assistance for the children of police officers, fire fighters and emergency services personnel who have died in the line of duty.
Penn Wood’s Ato Troop is the head coach for Team Blue, which consists of schools from the Del Val League plus Sun Valley, Cardinal O’Hara, Bonner & Prendergast and The Haverford School. This is Troop’s first time coaching in the county all-star game.
“Anytime you have a chance to coach football, especially when it’s for a good cause, it’s a good thing,” Troop said. “It means that much more. Plus, it’s the last game in high school for these guys, and you get to send them off with a good experience.”
Rich Gentile is the head man for Team Red, which is made up of players from the 12 schools in the Central League and Delaware County Christian School. This is Gentile’s fifth or sixth time as a head coach in the game. He couldn’t remember the exact number. Gentile also has served as an assistant coach many times.
“My brother (Lou) was a police officer,” Gentile said. “He’s retired now so it’s something that’s very important to me. There are a lot of people who are first responders and police officers that are friends of mine, people I grew up with. And I think it’s a special experience for the kids to play in a football game where winning is not the most important part so it’s nice for them to be involved in something that’s bigger than them.”
The game features 100 of the top seniors from Delaware County, including 12 players who earned first-team All-Delco honors from the Daily Times and 13 who were named to the second team.
Bowen is among the many standouts that will suit up Thursday night. He caught 40 passes for 823 yards and eight touchdowns, and was equally as good on defense, to help the Patriots to the Del Val League title and a berth in the District 1 playoffs for just the third time in program history.
The Red roster features, among others, running back Danny Guy from Garnet Valley, the 2017 Daily Times Player of the Year, and Marple Newtown quarterback Anthony Paoletti, the all-time leading passer in county history.
Guy and teammate Matt Lassik, who also will play in the game, rushed for over 1,000 yards to lead the Jaguars to a 12-2 record and the District 1 Class 6A championship game for the second year in a row. Guy will play college ball at West Chester.
Paoletti threw for 6,944 yards in his career to break the mark of 5,897 yards set by his coach, Chris Gicking. Paoletti is headed to Delaware.
The game, though, is more than about football. The primary goal is to raise funds for the children of first responders who have died in the line of duty. To that end, the Hero Bowl has been very successful. Last year’s game raised more than $37,000. Since its inception in 1977, 35 young people have received scholarships from the fund.
But the aspect that makes this game special is unique friendships that are formed between the players and the coaches who are opponents during the season.
“It’s pretty cool to get to know the guys from Academy Park, our big rival, Chester, Chichester and all the other schools we play against,” Bowens said. “We all know each other from social media so when we see each other we all just come together.”
“It’s really interesting seeing the players compete with each other and form that bond,” Troop said. “Watching them interact with each other and get to know each other has been enjoyable.”
That’s the dynamic of the game Gentile enjoys the most.
“There are friendships that are made that last a lifetime,” Gentile said. “Most of the shirts that I own either have Upper Darby football or the Hero Bowl on it.
“I work at Lansdowne Swim Club and we had a guy coming into turn on the pilot lights for the equipment in the snack bar. He came down on a Friday. I get out of the car wearing a Hero Bowl coaching shirt. He has gray hair and he looks at me and says, ‘I haven’t seen that shirt in a while.’ I respond, ‘How would you know this shirt?’ He says, ‘I played in it.’ I asked him when he played in the game and he said he played in 1988. He was from Penn Wood.
“It’s just amazing to me that after all these years I wear that stuff and run into ex-players who played in the game and we start talking about it. The other thing, as coaches, we meet these kids and we find out why these kids are playing in the game. They’re great kids. They’re smart. They know the game and they’re good athletes. It’s a great experience.”