Philadelphia Public League’s Investment Pays Dividends for Student-Athletes’ Futures

While many districts had to trim budgets due to COVID-19, the Public League boldly increased their spending to provide Hudl to all affiliated schools. And with Hudl's recruiting tools, every athlete has the agency to control their athletic future.

By the numbers:
All 73 Philadelphia Public League member schools
30 football programs
130 basketball programs (boys’ and girls’)
Over 250 unique teams across all sports
20,000+ athletes with recruiting profiles

Unified Through Sports

Titans of basketball are born and bred in Philadelphia. Neighborhoods feature stunning murals that pay homage to the iconic players the city has produced: Wilt Chamberlain, Dawn Staley, and the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

From playgrounds to high schools to top universities, basketball is ingrained in Philadelphia’s DNA, a notion not lost on the Philadelphia Public League. And with more than 400 public courts throughout the city, it’s no surprise that residents are never too far from a hoop. 

At the geographic heart of Philadelphia, nestled between all those public courts, lies Center City; a seven-and-a-half square mile area bookended by the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Highlighting the metro area are towering skyscrapers and historic landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. 

The Philadelphia Public League office sits within the concrete jungle of Center City, just over a half-mile west of City Hall along John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

Founded in 1901 as the Philadelphia Interscholastic League, the Public League has never strayed from its mission to use sports as a uniting force for high schools in the area. Basketball was one of the first sports they adopted. From the 1970s up to the turn of the millennium, the Public League produced top athletic talent. Not just in basketball, but across all sports. 

“The time is now to focus on how we can continue to engage our student-athletes in meaningful and intentional ways.”

However, in the years after the Great Recession of 2008, the good fortune of the Public League dried up and it’s been fighting an uphill battle ever since. Add in the challenges facing high school sports in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the Public League recognized it was at a crossroads.

Deciding to take strong action, Philadelphia Public League President Dr. James Patrick Lynch said, “The time is now to focus on how we can continue to engage our student-athletes in meaningful and intentional ways. Putting our student-athletes on a path to postsecondary success is an integral part of our mission and vision as a league.”

The Public League initiated plans to reclaim a competitive advantage. This is their comeback story.

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Reclaiming a Competitive Edge

“Our league as a whole, and our district in particular, was hit really hard by the economic downturn,” said Vice President of League Operations Michael Donahue. “Basically, everybody had to eliminate two teams in order to make the budget work. It took a long time for those teams to come back to their schools.”

In addition to cutting programs, new schools popped up throughout the city. In 2003, the league had 34 schools compared to 73 schools today. These new schools spread the coaching and athletic talent pool thin across the city.

And for their suburban and private school counterparts, better financial stability and access to resources meant a leg up over the Public League, whose assets were being depleted. Every sport struggled to compete.

Searching for answers, Donahue and the Public league turned to Hudl. This partnership is the league’s plan to level the playing field.

"But if now everyone has it, there’s more drive to make practice more competitive and game-like. If my rivals have [Hudl], it’s going to innately make my team better."

Staying true to its roots, the league has guaranteed every basketball team will have Hudl. Depending on which programs exist at each school, other sports like volleyball, wrestling, lacrosse and field hockey will also have video and data at their fingertips.

Why is this such a crucial partnership for the Public League? Video review is proven to help athlete development. Coaches and athletes can hold film review sessions in practice and at home, maximizing their practice time to improve individual and team performance.

The Public League has adapted to the remote environment that shook up the country back in March, and has implemented “virtual seasons” for the fall semester while league competitions remain postponed. 

“Hudl is going to play a big part in our virtual seasons taking place, and our coaches are excited to have this tool to support their efforts,” Lynch said.

Palumbo High School athletic director Erik Goldstein doubles as the head varsity coach for girls’ and boys’ volleyball. Previously, his teams had to hold fundraisers to pay for Hudl, but he insisted on having the program because he saw how video and data could help his team get better. Now, he’s excited to see how Hudl will increase the competition inside the Public League and beyond.

“If I’m the only school in the district using Hudl, then there’s no video sharing. There’s no working together to get better,” Goldstein said. “But if now everyone has it, there’s more drive to make practice more competitive and game-like. If my rivals have [Hudl], it’s going to innately make my team better.

“I think that’s the part that is going to benefit everyone in the district, them having access to this type of technology.”

Helping teams improve is just one side of the technology Hudl offers. It’s also the key to recruiting.

The Path to College 

The Philadelphia Public League mission is “To deliver on the civil right of every child in Philadelphia to an excellent public school education, and to ensure that all children graduate from high school ready to succeed as fully engaged citizens of our world. Therefore, if our League does not produce a better person, it has no reason to exist.”

Part of that mission is to help student-athletes be successful both during and after their time in the Public League. According to The School District of Philadelphia’s profile report, just 53% of Philadelphia’s high school students enroll in college post-high school graduation—down two percentage points from the previous year. For the Public League’s 20,000 athletes, having Hudl means they can take control of their future and extend their athletic careers.

While many districts had to trim budgets due to COVID-19, the Public League boldly increased their spending to provide Hudl to every school. Donahue said the decision was easy because of the recruiting opportunities it affords players.

“The return on investment that we could see in making this deal, we feel, far exceeds what monetary value we’re putting into it,” he said.

He believes the return will come in the form of scholarships. Every athlete using Hudl has their own secure profile where they can create and share highlight reels. They can display scholastic achievements such as their GPA, test scores and academic awards. These profiles are added to a searchable database for college recruiters. Recruiters can watch highlights, view full games and find contact information to start the recruitment process.

Regina Johnson, the athletic director and head track and field coach at Martin Luther King High School, supports Donahue’s partnership decision and believes Hudl will be an important resource for athletes and their families.

“At the end of the day, our focus is on the student-athletes,” Johnson said. “And having this avenue to showcase and to share [their talent] is a way of us saying ‘We support you.’”

Many families in the Philadelphia Public League community are at a financial disadvantage. Donahue says that if only one student gets a full athletic scholarship, the investment will be worth it. But it’s about more than just the money.

“The return on investment that we could see in making this deal, we feel, far exceeds what monetary value we’re putting into it.”

“When you go to college, you have more of a chance to live a life where you have peace of mind,” Donahue said. “Those tools make our student-athletes more empowered to take control of the process.”

There are 97 colleges and universities in the state of Pennsylvania between NCAA Divisions I, II and III. Add in NAIA schools, junior colleges and community colleges with interscholastic athletic programs, and that number balloons to almost 150.

Giving athletes and their families the agency to open doors at the next level was a top driver in this partnership.

“We want to provide a platform where current student-athletes and the future student-athletes can take it upon themselves, through their own efforts—even those athletes that aren’t going on to big-time college programs—where they can be seen. They can advance to that next level,” Donahue said.

“We see Hudl as the pathway to making that happen.”

The Future of Philadelphia Athletics

This partnership reinforces the Public League’s devotion to its student-athletes and desire to elevate the level of talent and competition in inner-city athletics.

“If I was a kid right now I’d be super excited,” Goldstein said. “There’s going to be more kids getting seen. Maybe now we’re going to have more kids going to college for free. Maybe going to a Division III school getting to play the sport they want to play.

“I think it’s going to put Philadelphia on notice. You’re going to see really good volleyball players, some really good soccer players, and wrestling. It’s going to spread the love a little bit.”

Make no mistake: the comeback is on. The coaches and athletes of the Philadelphia Public League are on the rise.

Hudl has solutions for every sport and budget. If you want to see how Hudl can help your program or district, book a demo with a Hudl representative today.

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