PHILADELPHIA — Pleasantville High School running back/linebacker Ernest Howard fought back tears Wednesday that had nothing to do with the Greyhounds’ 22-0 loss to Camden at Lincoln Financial Field.
The senior had traded in his normal No. 2 maroon-and-black jersey in favor of No. 10 to wear for the rest of the Central Jersey Group II semifinal.
He did it to honor 10-year-old Micah Tennant, who died Wednesday from wounds sustained when gunfire erupted at Pleasantville High School during the third quarter of the game Friday night.
“It was really tough to play football today,” Howard said. “We found out earlier today, and it was just heartbreaking. We were all hurting, but we gave it our all because we really wanted to win it for him.”
Five hundred fans — each school was given 250 passes — showed up at the Linc to root for the Greyhounds (8-2) and Panthers (8-2).
Pleasantville spectators, team managers and cheerleaders wore sweatshirts bearing the slogan “Pleasantville Strong, It’s More Than a Game.”
The group included Pleasantville police Chief Sean Riggin and firefighters Julio Sanchez and Tyrell Edwards. Edwards held up a banner with Bertie Moses and Tyrell Swaggerty that read, “Greyhound Strong.”
Sanchez, a former professional boxer, and Edwards were at the first part of the game Friday and were among the first responders when gunshots rang out late in the third quarter Friday night. Six people were arrested in the shooting.
“I wanted to come to the game and then visit Micah in the hospital afterward,” Edwards said. “The fact that he passed away really hurts me. This gun violence has to stop.”
The Philadelphia Eagles did their best to help ease the pain.
Camden’s and Pleasantville’s players arrived to find their names and numbers on lockers. The Panthers suited up in the visitors’ locker room before the game, while the Greyhounds got dressed in Temple University’s locker room.
“It really was an awesome experience for the kids to be able to play here,” Pleasantville coach Chris Sacco said. “I just wish it would have been under different circumstances.”
Before the game, quarterback Carson Wentz, tight end Zach Ertz, defensive end Brandon Graham, center Jason Kelce and coach Doug Pederson were among the dozen or so Eagles who showed up to pose for pictures and offer words of encouragement for the players.
“Being from Detroit, I’ve experienced similar situations,” Graham said on the field before the game. “Bullets don’t have names. It’s a real shame that these kids had to go through that because it’s something that will probably stay with them for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, they’ll remember being here with us for the rest of their lives, too. I’m hoping we were able to shine a better light on for them.”
The Eagles were supposed to leave before the game resumed and return to the NovaCare Complex to prepare for Sunday’s game against Seattle, but Wentz, Ertz, Kelce and Graham stuck around for as long as possible.
They all took the time to chat with the players and offer words of encouragement.
“When a tragedy like that happens, it’s no fun,” Wentz said. “You hate to see it. You pray for the families and everyone involved. It’s really cool to see the organization step out and reach out to try and make a difference for them. It won’t undo what happened, but just to try to bring some joy and get those families to just keep moving forward.”
Players were treated to a terrific experience.
Before the game, both teams charged out of the Eagles’ tunnel while jets of smoke shot into the air, producing goosebumps from players, coaches and spectators.
Pleasantville and Camden then locked arms at midfield for a moment of silence. Camden coach Dwayne Savage and the Panthers had stopped at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where Micah passed away, on their way to the stadium to have another moment of silence.
During the game, the action was shown on the giant scoreboards at each end of the stadium while the public address announcer provided play by play.
Former Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant raced along the Pleasantville sideline during the game, offering encouragement to the Greyhounds’ offense and defense.
“To get the chance to play in an NFL stadium was pretty amazing,” Pleasantville wide receiver/defensive back Keon Henry said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to do it again someday.”