James Brown didn’t come out of retirement for nothing. The former Overbrook High School and West Chester State College standout came back to Public League basketball coaching after a two-year hiatus to make a difference. And four years later, he’s done just that, guiding Science Leadership Academy at Beeber to a Class AAA Public League championship.
The Rockets (20-5) will play for the Class AAA City Championship on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Abraham Lincoln High School. Beeber will play the winner of Tuesday’s Class AAA Catholic League special qualifier championship game between Neumann-Goretti and Bishop McDevitt at La Salle High School. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Brown. “We’ve come a long way. To think three years ago we only won one game, and now we’re 20-5. It’s something to be proud of but I can’t take the credit. These young men went out there and played as a team. They deserve it.”
Brown was quick to recognize his assistant coaches Mareese Davis and Sheldon Robinson for the work they’ve put in to make the Rockets champions.
“[Davis and Robinson] make my job so much easier,” said Brown. “We wouldn’t have had the success we’ve had if not for them.”
Once upon a time, the school was called Dimner Beeber Junior High School. It was a feeder school to nearby Overbrook High School. A change in school policy and curriculum turned it into the second campus of the Science Leadership Academy.
Under its new name, the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber became an inquiry-driven, project-based public school focused on 21st-century learning. SLA Beeber opened its doors as a high school on Sept. 9, 2013. It welcomed its first class of fifth-graders last September.
According to the school district, SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.
“We’ve got a great group of kids at the school,” said Brown. “They’re from all over the city. SLA Beeber offers them something that’s special.”
A winning championship basketball team is giving many people in Wynnefield a reason to smile these days. The Rockets are led by three junior guards — Nair Pettigrew, Asa Brooks and Brandon Richardson.
“I’ve watched these three young men grow,” said Brown. “If they stay together and continue to mature, they are going to be even better. The potential is there for them to do extremely well.”
When Brown stopped coaching a few years ago, he was pretty much set on relaxing. Once a head coach at John Bartram High, Brown had begun to enjoy watching his son Andre coach his old team. The older Brown had once guided Bartram to a Public League crown.
“I didn’t think anything about coaching until [a friend] told me about Beeber,” said Brown. “At first I thought they were talking about my coaching the middle school, but then it was explained to me that things had changed.
“I’m enjoying it. I’m trying to show these young men that there is more to this than basketball, that they can use the lessons learned from playing in their lives. Those life lessons are invaluable.”