Students document urban football

“Rise of the Tigers” is a film by two Temple seniors following a high school team from Kensington.

After spending months of filming their story of an urban high school football team in a crime-riddled section of Philadelphia, two Temple students have seen their project take off into the limelight.

Directed by seniors Max Pulcini and Matthew Albasi, both journalism majors, “Rise of the Tigers” follows the Kensington Tigers in their 2012 season, and focuses on the various struggles they have to overcome as a football team from a rough area of Philadelphia. It also follows the vision of their coach, Ellwood Erb, who worked to start the team when he came to teach at Kensington Creative-Performing Arts School.

“I was assigned to talk to the head coach of the Kensington football team and expected a simple 15-minute long interview,” said Pulcini, who had been assigned the story for the Spirit of the River Wards Newspaper. “Once I got to the field, I found out that I was very mistaken.”

Pulcini recounted what he saw when he got to the field that was sloped and covered in rocks, glass and old train wreckage. “Because of budget cuts that have plagued the school distort, the team operates on a budget of practically zero dollars, mostly getting their money from the coaches’ pockets and donations,” he explained.

Pulcini spoke of a wall along the field that was one of the worst examples blight.

“Coach explained to me that the wall had once been covered in graffiti and read ‘Smoke Dust, Kill Cops’ on it large enough to see from the El,” Pulcini said. “Erb and his father hand painted the giant mural to cover up the tags and symbolize a new beginning in Kensington.”

“I was in awe of this team and their coach and the lengths they go to play football in Kensington and get these kids off the streets,” said Pulcini, explaining why he wanted to shoot this film. “I played football in South Jersey growing up and we had everything a team could want. But these kids in Kensington have nothing– training equipment, no field and little support. So I made this movie to help bring awareness to this team and hopefully get them some recognition and support.”

Although he said it was slow going since the film began as five-episode web miniseries, Pulcini eventually found the film gaining recognition through word of mouth and social media.

“Through that we got some internet radio appearances. Then at Temple I was asked by Professor Chris Harper to use the clips for a project. That got us even more recognition and support via temple.”

From there, the coverage of the film spread to a television spot with Phil Andrews on Philly Sports Spotlight, WIP’s afternoon show with Anthony Gargano and Glen Macnow and is going to be featured on Citypaper’s website and the Camden County Courier-Post.

“The important thing to mention is that everyone who has covered the film also believes in the story behind it,” said Pulcini.

In terms of what Pucini hopes this film will achieve, he wishes to see the football team get the recognition and support it deserves. “It’s a truly amazing story and I think it something that Philadelphia, hell, the whole country should know about. I want the Kensington Tigers to be Philly’s home town high school football team.”

The film is being shown at The Cadillac Grille at the Wells Fargo Center on June 8.

Mathew Hulmes can be reached at

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