Longform Philly

Month: July, 2016

Survival, in verse

Hit and Run Victim

Aubrey Whelan | The Philadelphia Inquirer | June 2016

As hundreds of teenagers thump into their folding seats in the cavernous downtown theater, the poets of Edison High huddle under the dim lights backstage.

Turn in a pitch-perfect performance today and make the finals. Otherwise, season’s over.

The odds are not with them.

Since February, when this citywide slam poetry competition started, the team from the North Philadelphia school has not once won. While the poets’ desire is palpable, their verses are raw, their delivery sometimes halting.

But every Friday they have showed up anyway, battling much more seasoned, more confident, poets from schools across the city — all because of a promise, made the summer before and mired in the kind of grief that has become a rite of passage where they’re from.

Zaire Douglas, a senior and one of the team’s leaders, reminds them of one thing before they go onstage at the Gershman Y.

“We are doing this,” Zaire says, “for Tyrone.”

Writer bio: Aubrey Whelan is an enterprise reporter for The Inquirer. Whelan, a Lansdale native and Penn State graduate, wrote for the Washington Examiner before joining the Inky in 2012.

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Stunned by cuts

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Mike Jensen | The Philadelphia Inquirer | December 2013

Barely more than an hour after he got the news, Gavin White sat in his car in the driveway next to the Liacouras Center, blinkers flashing, rain filling his windshield. He looked at his ringing phone.

“This is my wife,” said Temple’s men’s rowing coach, in his 34th year on the job.

“Hey, Whitey,” White said, getting right to why he had left her a message to call. “They cut crew. . . . Yes, they did. They cut seven sports. They cut men and women’s crew. I think the whole boathouse thing, we cut our own throats with that. They cut baseball, softball, gymnastics.” During the call, White’s right hand began shaking but his voice stayed even.

“You plan the party,” White told his wife.

His wife had been telling him that when he finally got out she would throw the biggest party known to man.

“You hear her?” White said when he got off the phone. “She was cursing a blue streak.” White, whose Varsity 8 had won the Dad Vail Regatta 20 times, wore his Temple shirt identifying him as the crew coach. His Temple ID hung from his neck.

“I bleed Temple blood,” White said. “Yeah, I do.”

Writer bio: Among other assignments, Mike Jensen writes “Off Campus,” a regular column on college sports for the Inquirer. A staff writer with the paper since 1988, Jensen covered college basketball and football beats for 15 years, wrote about soccer from 10 countries on five continents, and was assigned to the Kentucky Derby the year of Smarty Jones. He won Eclipse Awards for his coverage of Smarty Jones and Barbaro.

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