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‘Bullet for Nick.’ The Roxborough squad hold their first practice since filming

For the first time since their teammate was killed in a shooting near their school last week, members of Roxborough High School’s varsity and junior football teams returned to the practice field on Monday, and players and coaches dedicated their season to him.

In cold and rainy weather, coaches and students from Roxborough at Monday’s practice adopted ‘Ball for Nick’ as their slogan. Nicolas Elizalde was a freshman at Walter B. Saul High School, which doesn’t have a football team, so Elizalde was allowed to play on Roxborough’s JV team.

Elizalde was one of five students in the district shot dead Sept. 27 on Pechin Street, a short walk from the school and shortly after a football scrimmage involving students from Boys Latin Charter School and Northeast High School as well than from Roxborough.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia police identified Dayron Burney-Thorn as a person of interest in connection with the shooting. There is a $45,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction, police told Chalkbeat.

Between snaps, members of the varsity and junior varsity teams discussed how they deal with the trauma of what they witnessed last week while continuing to manage classwork and practice. Some parents were upset that Roxborough did not cancel classes the day after the shooting.

The students said they were energized by the return to football and motivated to play. But they also candidly discussed their disappointment with how long it took police to respond to the shooting, as well as how – after the Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni showed his support for the school by wearing a Roxborough shirt at a press conference – the school only attracted such public support after a violent and highly publicized tragedy.

In cold and rainy weather, members of Roxborough High School’s varsity and junior football teams practice at Roxborough Stadium in Philadelphia on Monday.

Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat

Kazir Dyson, Roxborough JV team captain, said: “Returning to training has given me a bit more energy. My biggest thing is to make sure we win on his behalf. But Dyson also criticized the lack of a nearby trauma hospital, the lack of security around last week’s melee and much of the reaction to Elizalde’s shooting and death.

“Everyone wants to show their love once someone dies,” Dyson said. “My thing is to be there before the tragedy happens. What if it never happened? We would never have caught the public eye.

You never know when it’s going to be your moment,” added JV team member and Roxborough rookie Kaseem Osbourne. “You want to build your profile now because in Philadelphia we could lose our lives at any time.”

Gun violence in Philadelphia has increased since the pandemic began and has had a particularly traumatic effect on the city’s students.

Roxborough briefly considered canceling the football season, says JV head coach Tyson Harrington, who graduated from high school in 2020 and played the tight end role for the school team . But instead, he said, he and others did what they could to ensure safety.

A police car was parked near training on Monday, after some parents – like the players – criticized the lack of security around the September 27 scrimmage.

“All we can do right now is keep things safe, like making sure all of our players are good and parents know they’ll be good from now on,” Harrington said.

Harrington said after that scrum the players were in “good spirits”. But then he got the news of what happened shortly after. “It was really tragic, sad,” he said. “We have players and people who didn’t deserve it.”

A makeshift memorial to Nicolas Elizalde, filled with flowers, candles and photos.

A makeshift memorial to Nicolas Elizalde, filled with flowers, candles and pictures, stands on Pechin Street opposite Roxborough Stadium.

Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat

The team trains every day after school for nearly two hours inside Roxborough Stadium, opposite Gorgas Park. On Monday, opposite the stadium, there was a makeshift memorial with flowers, candles, photos and a jersey on Pechin Street, where Elizalde was shot.

“We just want to finish the season. What happened was crazy. And it’s not quite figured out yet in what happened,” said Lovett Davenport, a Grade 11 and starting cornerback for Roxborough’s varsity team. “Now we are here to do it for him.”

Mark Skinner, head football coach of Roxborough’s varsity team, said a big part of his job in the current situation is coaching his players.

“If you’re talking to the right kid, you don’t even know how that ripple effect can save his life,” Skinner said. “It’s a bit of everything. It’s not anyone’s fault or something to fix. We all need to do this collectively to keep improving.

Although many students have left the football team since last week, according to the players, the remaining players are committed to the season.

“I had the possibility to stop, but I said no. I had the option of changing schools, but I said no. I’m going to play for Nick and I’m going to do him good,” Osbourne said. “I’ll make sure he’s proud.”

Office Manager Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees the educational coverage of Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Johann at [email protected]

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