West Philly Panthers overcome unlikely odds on way to perfect season

Beccah Hendrickson Image
Sunday, November 13, 2022
West Philly Panthers overcome unlikely odds on way to perfect season
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A West Philadelphia youth football and cheerleading squad could be on the way to a national championship after facing tough battles this season both on and off the field.

WEST PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A West Philadelphia youth football and cheerleading squad could be on the way to a national championship after facing tough battles this season both on and off the field.

Now, for the West Philly Panthers' 13 and under squads, a season-long dream that once seemed impossible is within reach.

"They're resilient. They definitely want to rise above everything that's going on around them. They've come together, been really tight-knit as a team and really more like family. They're like brothers," said Rey Marsh, the offensive coordinator.

The team practices at Shepard Recreation Center near 58th and Vine. Four months ago, this field became a crime scene.

"We had girls in the air, we had football players on the field, we have innocent kids playing in the water," said Jockel Sumpter-King, the cheer coordinator recalling a night in August where the team was practicing.

Police say multiple shooters fired nearly 100 shots on the street nearby, hurting five people.

"Gun violence in Philadelphia is rampant and it's scary. But these kids have chosen to rise above that and really do something that really means something with a purpose," said Marsh.

The football team went undefeated and the cheerleaders have been just as successful.

"The season's fun, but with all the shooting happening, it just got to us. But once we got to locals, it just boiled our blood up," said Samira Haynes, who's excited about the prospect of going to nationals.

Even if both the football team and cheer squad qualify, they're going to need more help. It's going to cost an estimated $35,000 to get the kids down to Florida, and they've been reaching out to the community for more help.

"That would include travel, hotel stays, food and things of that nature," said Marsh, who noted the kids have been doing fundraisers but have only been able to raise a fraction of the cost.

Still, with the kids' dreams within reach, the organizations are hoping to give them a reason to cheer.