Photo courtesy of Stay Shootiin.
By David Cordova
The B division is a league that many shun and don’t pay attention to, or is seen as very inferior when it comes to talent. However, there are teams that are well-coached and play very hard and give the maximum effort every time they step on the floor.
One team that exudes the quality of hard work is the Fannie Lou Hamer Panthers. The program from the school on Jennings Street in the South Bronx has been one of the top teams in the city’s B division league for the past few seasons, winning various titles.
The person behind the program’s success is Marc Skelton, the longtime head coach and the architect of the program. Skelton, who is also a teacher at the school, is more than just the man on the sideline, as he is also an educator and a person that the players look up to for guidance and mentoring, etc.
“Each game, we go out and play as hard as we can and hopefully we get the W,” says Skelton about the mission of the program.
On Fannie Lou Hamer as school, he replied, “It’s a special place, I’ve been working there for 16 years [and coaching for 13 years] and it’s only a place where I work, but it’s also a place I like to call home.”
Skelton started coaching the basketball program in 2006 and molded it to what it is today. When asked if he had any dreams for the program from day one, he replied, “I had no dreams, I had no expectations. We started in the 2006-07 season, and the season prior to that, the team was 0-18, so our expectations were, you know, just to build some fundamentals and win some games.”
Since his time there, the Panthers have won tore PSAL championships – in 2013, 2017 and last season, in 2018. And, speaking of last season, the Panthers went 29-4 and won the school’s first-ever New York State Federation championship at the Cool Insurance Arena in Glens Falls, New York. Their outstanding play earned them the No. 1 ranking in the state of New York.
When asked about winning the state Federation title, Skelton replied, “The team was on a mission, the team had gone up [to Glens Falls] in 2017 and lost to La Salle, and so it was kind of a mission not only to repeat as city champions last year, but also to go up to Glens Falls and win the whole thing.”
This season, the Panthers are on a roll, and have a 16-3 overall record, with 12-1 record in the PSAL Bronx B play. When asked about this season’s squad, Skelton replied, “I like what I see. The core of this team is very talented and it’s also very hard working and I enjoy coaching them.”
Leading the way for the Panthers is juniors Anthony Rose and Tariq Mahan and seniors Tyree Morris and Frankie Williams. All four had significant minutes on last season’s championship team and are back to give the team more offensive firepower and leadership. Other contributors on the team are seniors Francys Fernandez and Christopher Reyes.
Another great thing about this program, is that it has a 100% graduation rate and all of the players go on to attend college. When basketball is over, the education will be needed to take you to many places. Messages like those are what Skelton preaches to his players day in and day out.
On March 12th, Skelton will be releasing a book titled, “Pounding the Rock: Basketball Dreams and Real Life in a Bronx High School,” which talks about the 2016-17 season and will take readers on a journey into what life is like for him & his players. “It gives a background on not only the team, but the school and New York City basketball and education,” he replied about the book, which can pre-ordered through Amazon for the grand price of $24.99.
So far all is well for the Panthers, as they embark on another road to the city playoffs. Wins there could potentially lead to another championship and another trip to Glens Falls.
On the future of the basketball program, he added, “The future is bright, but again, we kind of focus on the present. But again, we add something new to the trophy case, but also, the legacy of the former players, I think they enjoy coming to the games and watching us play also.”
Although they play in a smaller division, the Fannie Lou Hamer Panthers have endured so much success in the span of a few years. Dating back to the 2015-16 season, they have a compiled a record of 99-12. The message is simple: for those who plan to play for the Fannie Lou Hamer program, you must be a student-athlete. Student always comes first. What that message tells the youth is that if you do what you’re supposed to do in the classroom, there’s nowhere to go up. And this program intends to do just that.