Loss of Glen Mills only deepens dearth of Del Val opponents
There’s a gaping hole in the Del Val League schedules this year, and it might be one that lasts longer than just this fall.
The turmoil at Glen Mills means that, among the school’s myriad larger issues, it won’t field a football team this fall, taking away a league game from what already is one of the smallest leagues in District 1.
The league’s athletic directors elected in March, after reports of alleged abuse of children and cover-up were unearthed in an investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer, to demote Glen Mills to affiliate member status for 2019-20. The primary impetus was the school being unable to field teams in football and soccer with, at that time and now, uncertainty of whether it would even open and if so at what capacity.
Enrollment had plummeted, with various jurisdictions (including Philadelphia and juvenile courts in Michigan, Texas and California) withdrawing students last school year before the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services revoked the 200-year-old school’s licenses and shut it down for the academic year in early April.
The school for court-adjudicated boys, as reported by the Inquirer, registered its enrollment last August at 383 boys. For the last PIAA two-year classification survey, conducted in December 2017 and applicable for 2018-19 and 2019-20, showed 325 boys at Glen Mills, putting them in Class 4A for football. Those numbers were down into the low 100s by last spring before closure. The school faces lawsuits and laid off 250 full- and part-time staffers last spring. It is hoping to return to something close to its former educational model, albeit on a smaller scale, but that is subject to state approval.
Glen Mills joined the Del Val in the 1980s and enjoyed stretches as a dominant power in several sports, including football (NFL player Bernard Pierce is among the notable graduates). Its reign in football lasted until 1995 when it voluntarily withdrew in the face of discontent from other Del Val members, making its football team an independent program. But the Battlin’ Bulls returned in 2008.
Glen Mills won a piece of the league title in its first year back and claimed outright crowns in 2011 and 2013. It went 25-5 over the first six seasons back in the league, peaking with a 9-4 campaign in 2013 in which it played for the District 1 Class AAA title, falling to Academy Park.
The success has leveled out since, Glen Mills not winning more than five games in any of the last five seasons. Coach Kevin Owens led the Bulls to consecutive 3-7 campaigns the last two years.
All of which is to say that scheming an effective defense or learning kickoff coverage is the least of the priorities at the moment. But the ripple effect is nonetheless felt by the other teams in the Del Val. Athletic director Pete Forjohn could not be reached for comment.
That’s part of the reason why the associate member status was conferred proactively last March, even before the league’s other five members knew for sure if Glen Mills would open again. That extra lead time allowed schools to compensate for the void in their schedules without scrambling.
Scheduling games is a challenge to begin with for the Del Val, which doesn’t start league play until Week 6. That’s much later than most leagues — the Ches-Mont is in league play by Week 4, the Central League dives in in Week 2 — and leaves a puzzle of how to fill the schedule. Add in the demands of strength of schedule for the district’s playoff points system and the scheduling has real consequences.
The opening has been a template for creativity for the five remaining teams. Penn Wood’s Ato Troop, for instance, planned a unique experience for his players: A Week 9 trip to Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C.
“It’s different,” Troop said. “The bright side is our kids are excited to play a game out of state, which many of our kids haven’t done at the high school level. So you get to play an out-of-state game, which is a good selling point. It comes with challenges, but we’re ready for it.”
Interboro is the only team that finishes with four straight Del Val games, adding a Week 6 trip to Unionville for a final tune-up before embarking on league play. Academy Park gets the short end of the stick by having just one of its four league games at home. It added Quakertown to the slate for Week 10, a Class 6A school that, if recent winning seasons are any indications, should bring plenty of win-bonus points.
Chichester added fellow 5A school Rustin in Week 7. Chester replaced Glen Mills with D.C.’s Coolidge High, which serves as its homecoming game in Week 8.
While coaches lament the lost rivalry that has built up through the years, they’ve tried to maximize the benefits of an open date on their schedule.
“We look forward to playing the Del Val,” Chester coach LaDontay Bell said. “We look forward to playing some kids that we’ve played for some time, some teams that we’ve played for some time. It’s very unfortunate, but with that, we bring on another team, and we have to treat it like it’s the Del Val.”
Reigning league champ Penn Wood is the favorite as long as Desman Johnson remains in the backfield. The All-Delco quarterback, who set the county single-season passing yards record last year and is 1,482 yards shy of the career passing mark, is back for the two-time defending champ, which hasn’t lost a home game since 2016.
It will be a season of adjustment, though, with the entire receiving corps from last year having graduated, led by Daily Times Football Player of the Year Kennedy Poles. Running back Elijah Gleplay returns, however, and it’s likely the offense will shift to the run setting up the pass instead of the opposite last year.
Academy Park will undergo changes this season, with the connection between converted quarterback Barry Brown and returning receiver Alphonso Hayes crucial to the offense’s success. Academy Park’s line is again capable of shouldering a big responsibility, led by senior Utensee Nankay.
Chichester has its quarterback returning in Nate Decenzi as it begins a new era in the program under former Rustin assistant Bob Brice. Decenzi threw for 1,847 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Zaquan Bruton, Byren Hamm and Xander Squire will be the key figures that Brice’s offense seeks to get the ball to, along with tight end Antonio Perez, a known playmaker on defense.
Chester’s offense retains just about everyone from last year’s team, save for the quarterback, a role that will be filled by junior Dymiere Stevenson. The strength for the Clippers is in the skill positions, where Malik Langley, Malachi Langley, Hakeem Bacon, Anton Sterling, Rafiqe Hilliard and Aasim Muhammad are all players with big-play capability, if the Clippers can get the ball into their hands.
Interboro also ushers in change in personnel after two years with Jared Dellipriscoli under center. The offense from longtime head coach Steve Lennox is the same as ever, with Mike Zane under center and Vince Kalodner and Sean Meyers in the backfield. Right tackle Mike Billups is the anchor for a line that projects as an area of strength.
By Matt DeGeorge, firstname.lastname@example.org