It has been a season of positive numbers for the Asbury Park High School football team.
The Blue Bishops won six of their first seven games, losing only to Point Pleasant Beach in overtime in the regular-season opener both teams and erasing the scars left by last year’s 2-8 record. And, led by wide receiver Jaedon Stephens and quarterback Davon Thompson, they have established themselves as one of the highest scoring teams in the Shore Conference.
However, there is one number that gnaws at the insides of first-year head coach Tim Fosque.
“About 80 percent of my players come from single parent families,” said Fosque, the product of a single parent home and the school’s dropout prevention officer. “When you have a child in a single parent home and the mom works to raise a family, there is not a lot of time for parenting and other influences come into place. A child looks to identify with someone. They look for a family structure in these bad organizations.”
Those organizations are sometimes gangs.
“Gangs are very prevalent in Asbury Park,” Fosque said. “For sure, we have kids who are at risk. Each student here has been either touched by or exposed to some sort of gang interaction. A child is being recruited by his siblings. Friends of his are in gang activity. We want to help our boys understand what they are faced with. We want them to understand the ramifications of being in gangs. We want them to be aware of alternative choices.”
To that end, Asbury Park hosts a study hall. One, termed the Gentlemen’s Club, is for personal development.
“We recently did a youth empowerment seminar hosted by the Spot, our school-based resource program,” Fosque said. “It dealt with stereotyping and self-imaging. It looked at how our youths are displayed in the media. It was a four-week workshop that dealt with stigmas.”
Gang culture is discussed in a four-week series. The district partners with the Sportz Farm Foundation, based in Asbury Park. It is run by Asbury Park graduate Teco Hammary.
“We talk about the dynamics of gangs and why people are in them,” Fosque said. “We discuss how youngsters are recruited and how gangs play a part in today’s youth culture. We raise the awareness of gangs and how we take a situation such as a gang and turn it into a positive. We deal with peer pressure group influence. We deal with devious activities and activities that disobey the law.”
Among the speakers is William Hakeem-Young, an Asbury Park graduate, a volunteer Asbury Park Middle School football coach and a retired corrections officer. He engages in anti-gang seminars around the state on behalf of Sportz Farm.
“He is a positive mentor and our calisthenics coach,” Fosque said.
Another speaker is Samad Haq, a corrections officer.
“He is a dynamic, powerful individual,” Fosque said. “He has a big background in kick boxing. He’s about 60 years old and built like a brick house. He gave the opening presentation to our series.”
The Blue Bishops were connected to Haq through the College and Careers Program run by coordinator Brian Stokes.
“Our speakers talk about the recruitment for gangs and how to avoid recruitment,” Fosque said. “They talk about how to react to recruitment and where to reach out for support. When I was in school in the 1980s in Asbury Park, there were the Five Percenters and the Muslims and other gang groups. They were bad and they bonded together. Once people saw what those organizations were about, it changed how they were looked at.
“We’re trying to switch the thought process. We want kids to bond as friends and try to positively influence someone without being considered a Blood or a Crip. There are sub groups that are not necessarily a Blood or a Crip. All too often, they bond and get into deviant activities. We want to show that kids come can together as a group of young men and have a positive influence on each other.”
Fosque cited his team as an example.
“We want good gangs,” he said. “The football team is a team organization and the boys on the team are part of something good. You want the organization to be positive. You want the kids to overcome the obstacles of growing up below the poverty line in an urban area. We want the boys to be in a healthy organization. How do we make kids adopt healthy activities? I think that is the key.”
While attending Asbury Park High School where he played football, Fosque was a member of the Casanova Brothers.
“We were not about anything tough,” he said. “They were a group of friends of mine who were mostly athletes. We supported each other. We pushed each other individually. We also supported each other in academics. We said, ‘This is what our goals are.’ We helped each other reach those goals. We had positive peer pressure. People said it was just a gang of guys. I am still a part of it.”