AFS Basketball Coach Steve Chadwin

AFS Basketball Coach Steve Chadwin

William C. Kashatus
Philadelphia Inquirer
February 5, 2007

Steve Chadwin

Steve Chadwin said he never intended to blaze a trail for diversity at an area high school. He simply wanted to use his passion for boys’ basketball to teach young players.

But, in 1980, after nine years as an assistant coach at Germantown Academy, Chadwin wanted his own team. Abington Friends School, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school with a total enrollment of 430 students at the time, was willing to give him its team.

And the results have been spectacular.

This season, Abington Friends is 17-5 overall and 7-0 in the Friends Schools League. It is ranked among the best teams in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer and will be vying for its 16th Friends Schools League title when the playoffs begin on Feb. 13.

The Kangaroos are set to play Germantown Friends in their playoff opener, and the winner will then play in the championship game against either Friends’ Central or Academy of the New Church on Feb. 16 at Haverford College.

Chadwin’s success on and off the court at AFS are due largely to the school’s emphasis on diversity, but it didn’t come without controversy.
Abington Friends School, founded in 1697 by the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers – is an unlikely basketball powerhouse. The Quaker values of pacifism, simplicity, equality and community have permeated the school’s curriculum throughout its history. But school officials discouraged high-profile athletic competition, fearing that its values would be compromised by the quest for victories and league championships. Until Chadwin arrived.

“I’ve always seen basketball as a vehicle for transferring important life lessons,” Chadwin, 60, said. “Many people think of the game as shooting and scoring – or winning. It is so much more. It teaches young people to give of themselves to something bigger, to place the team and its mission above personal gain, to make a commitment to the community. You can’t get much more ‘Quaker’ than that.”

Chadwin grew up in a middle-class Jewish family and graduated from Germantown High School in 1964. From there, he went on to East Tennessee State University, where he played freshman basketball and eventually earned a degree in health and physical education.

After college, Chadwin officiated in a Jewish league and ran clinics for developing players in various township leagues or the Junior Jewish League. In 1971, he landed a job coaching and teaching at Germantown Academy, where he was considered to be the favorite to succeed Jim Buckley as head varsity basketball coach. When the school chose former 76ers guard Hal Greer instead, Chadwin took the job at AFS.

His success was not immediate. In the early 1980s, the school’s trustees, administrators and teachers discouraged the idea of “diversity through basketball.” They said it was a ploy to build a winning sports program and would compromise the school’s academic reputation. As a result, Chadwin’s teams couldn’t compete with the larger schools that had more students from which to draw players.

But, when Bruce Stewart became head of AFS in 1985, the program took off.Stewart, now head of Sidwell Friends School in Washington, had been an administrator at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. As a student at the Quaker college in the early 1960s, he had been part of the civil rights movement. Lunch-counter sit-ins, nonviolent demonstrations and an instrumental role in integrating Greensboro’s public schools resulted in Stewart’s having a strong commitment to civil rights and the Quakers.

Stewart also had a passion for basketball. “I was determined to open doors of opportunity to those who never had them,” Stewart said. “Steve Chadwin felt the same way.”

Like many private schools, AFS is run as a business. It competes with other private schools for a limited number of available students, and any edge makes a big difference. While parents’ decisions about a school may be based on the quality of the academics, many students are swayed by sports.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Inter-Ac League schools such as Penn Charter, Episcopal Academy and Germantown Academy often won the enrollment battles because of the notoriety they gained through sports.
Suddenly, with Stewart’s support, Chadwin’s teams underwent dramatic changes. Through his contacts at other schools, some in Philadelphia’s Public League, Chadwin, or “C”, as he is known by his players, began adding talented players from other schools to his team.

To some, however, Chadwin’s method was controversial, and coaches accused him of recruiting top players from other teams. They pointed to transfers from the inner city, such as Marc Thompson and John Ingram, both 6-foot-1 guards, and Pat Feamster, a 6-3 center. That talented trio led AFS to its first Friends Schools League championship, in 1987.

“The truth is that those kids were recommended to us by the public schools,” Chadwin said. “Their coaches felt they had some academic potential that could be [better] achieved at a private school with a smaller student-teacher ratio. If basketball was their only reason for switching schools, they wouldn’t have come here.” Chadwin said that AFS offers no athletic scholarships but does provide some financial aid.

One of the first Public League coaches to recommend AFS to his players was Bill Ellerbee, the man who built a basketball powerhouse at Simon Gratz. Ellerbee was so impressed with AFS that he sent his son there.

“What I really admired about his program is that his players were gentlemen,” said Ellerbee, who had played against Chadwin for years. “I thought that my son would flourish at AFS because of Steve’s approach to the game.”

Ellerbee steered many promising students to AFS and was criticized by some Public League coaches for it.

“Sure, they were kids who were talented basketball players,” Ellerbee said. “But more important, I felt they had the ability to succeed academically and that AFS would help them to realize that potential.”

Over time, AFS, thanks in part to the basketball team’s success, increased its enrollment of racial minorities from 4 percent in 1980 to 27 percent for the current enrollment of 665 students. Not all the minority students are athletes. There are also musicians, artists and actors. Many of them are academically gifted. But it was the school’s success on the basketball court – Chadwin’s has 482 victories at the school – that gave AFS its initial exposure as a destination.

Michael Jordan, a graduate in 1996, and Lamar Plummer (’97) were among the most academically successful graduates who starred as basketball players. Both went on to play at Penn.

“Steve [Chadwin] is wonderful to work with because his players are prepared for college on and off the court,” said Fran Dunphy, the former coach at Penn now coaching at Temple.

Jordan, now a pro player in Italy, said Chadwin helped him become a better player and person. “He always made sure that I acted on my responsibilities to family and school before anything else,” Jordan said. “His example and the education I received at Abington Friends allowed me to be successful at the college level. Because of that, I believe that my decision to attend AFS was the most important decision of my life.”

Lower Moreland coach Mike McCabe, Chadwin’s assistant at AFS for 12 years, said Chadwin is an expert at relating to young players. “He knows when to hug a kid and when to get in his face,” McCabe said. “Those are life lessons that are invaluable.”

Chadwin said his players deserve all the credit. “Those young men have taught me far more than I have taught them,” he said. “I just captain the ship.”