On Wednesday evening, two New Jersey high school football teams met for a second time in six days — but this time under extraordinarily different circumstances.
This time, they were under the bright lights of Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, rather than the modest Pleasantville High School stadium, with its steel-gray metal stands. This time, the players from Camden and Pleasantville were in the presence of the likes of Carson Wentz and Malcolm Jenkins, and their team names glowed from the screens and scoreboards.
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- N.J. firefighter recalls words to boy shot at Camden-Pleasantville football game: ‘I told him to keep fighting’
Though both sides still wanted to win the state playoff game, the teams were thinking of the young boy who was not in the stands, whose name was now scrawled on jerseys and helmets.
Ten-year-old Micah “Dew” Tennant, a fifth grader at Atlantic City’s Uptown School Complex, was one of three people shot at a game between the schools on Friday, during a fight among several men that had nothing to do with the game. Hours before Pleasantville and Camden resumed that suspended game Wednesday afternoon, word came that Micah had died.
“The players, they want to play for him. They want to win for him. That’s all they talk about, is winning for him,” Alejandro Rosado, a 17-year-old Pleasantville senior, said as the game began. “We’re not seeing this game as just a game. It’s like a fight against violence.”
The game ended with a 22-0 Camden victory, a bittersweet win for young men who said they had played hard in Micah’s memory. Their bus had detoured on the way to the game to stop at the hospital where he died.
The game began with a moment of silence for Micah; the announcer said that “acts of violence do not win.” About an hour later, the game over, a Pleasantville player knelt on the field, one hand on his helmet and one pressing into his face.
Family members and friends from both teams flooded the field afterward, taking photographs and videos and hugging. Camden will play Cedar Creek for the Central Group 2 Sectional Championship on Nov. 30.
“It feels really good, especially with such a tragic situation,” Tiffany Brownlee, 48, whose son Jalin is a junior and a quarterback on the Camden team, said after she took a photograph with the Eagles mascot, Swoop, on the field. “They were going to come and play hard because of the tragic situation.”
On Facebook Wednesday evening, Tennant’s mother posted a video of him on Facebook.
“This kid was so different Big Personality...Big Smile & Big Dreams! Never in a million years would I think this would be my life. I’m happy my gmom raised me the way she did. It’s only by Gods Grace & Mercy that I’m standing tall for my boy!,” Angela wrote. “Dew I will never let anyone forget you…”
Outside the 10-year-old’s home in Atlantic City, his uncle Angelo Tennant stood at the front door earlier Wednesday and spoke quietly about his nephew.
“He’s a good, loving, young boy, full of life, just a happy-go-lucky kid,” he said. “Just a happy child. It’s beyond comprehension.”
The boy was struck in the neck when gunfire erupted in the stands in what police said was a dispute that had nothing to do with the schools or the game. Two others were also shot.
"Nobody should do to the child and family in an event like that and open fire on innocent people like that,” Angelo Tennant said.
Abdullah was in critical condition Wednesday at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. All six men were charged with weapons offenses, including Abdullah, who had a handgun in his pants when he was shot; Wyatt also has been charged with murder and attempted murder. Four have detention hearings Thursday in Mays Landing.
The shooting was possibly motivated by a prior Atlantic City homicide, authorities have said.
“No words can heal the suffering when a family loses a child — we can only do our best to ensure they know our prayers and sympathy are with them. In the coming days we will continue to offer support to the Tennant family as we grieve together for Dew,” the Pleasantville Police Department wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
On both sides of the field, parents who had tried to find their children in terror after Friday’s shooting watched them play in a 70,000-seat NFL stadium. Family and friends of the players said they were still in shock, angry this had happened at a football game. Some said their children had had nightmares or kept mentally replaying the shooting.
The game’s unusual venue, a dream for any high school player under normal circumstances, offered a silver lining.
“This is a big deal for them. They didn’t ever think they’d make it playing on [the] Eagles field .… This is motivation for them,” said Victoria Toro, 26, a Camden graduate whose boyfriend is an assistant coach.
When the Pleasantville team found out the boy had died, “everybody was crying,” said Bianca Holloway, whose son Lamont Jr. is a freshman on the team. Family and friends tried to help the players cope before the game. The team made a video in support of Tennant’s family.
Pleasantville — in the playoffs for the first time in decades — was shut out, but the players were still champions in the eyes of their fans.
“I don’t think it matters that we didn’t win. … It was all for the little boy. They played for the little boy, they played their best for him,” said Jojo Kotokpo, a 16-year-old Pleasantville student whose brother is a senior on the team. Plus, she said, “it was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re on the field where the professionals play,’ and I think it made them feel great.”
In the stands, the mood was “bittersweet,” Holloway said. “Our family is Eagles fans, and this is like a dream come true,” she said, “but it’s a sad way we had to get here.”
Kiemon Henry, 46, whose son is a senior on the Pleasantville team, said that the Eagles had given the boys an “amazing” opportunity, but that the community was equally filled with “grief and sorrow" for Tennant and his family.