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Cameron Smith

Boys hoops team's rise re-frames school, thanks to female coach

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

The school was called "The Prison on the Hill" around the community, and no one had been able to break through to the attending teenagers, many of whom were labeled as dangerous. The original school at Audenreid (Pa.) High was even razed to try and eliminate the stigma and start over, a process which meant all extracurricular activities esentially started from scratch as well.

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Into that void came an unlikely savior to take over a long-lost program, arriving from a truly unexpected source. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tina Wiggins applied for the head boys basketball coaching job at Audenreid, leaving another, more stable Philadelphia Public League boys basketball program to do so. She arrived at the troubled school after two years at Furness (Pa.) High and two decades coaching middle school boys basketball.

"They'd say, 'You know it's got that bad reputation and the kids are always fighting,'" Wiggins told the Inquirer. "But, it's so different from how it used to be."

In its first season as a varsity program, the team's record is far from what one would expect from a new program. Wiggins' team finished the 2010-11 regular season with a 14-3 record, the best in school history, with only one loss in Public League play. The record not only accounts for the four years since Audenreid was reopened -- including the first two in which the school didn't even host a basketball team -- but also all the years before its closure in 2005. The program's previous best season came in 1992, when it earned 12 wins.

The turnaround goes beyond the court, too. For her players to be eligible to compete in games, Wiggins requires them to attend SAT Prep courses held each Monday. That prep work and an increased focus on players' grades has pushed two of the team's most promising players to plan collegiate futures, with both junior point guard Maurice Wiltbanks and junior forward Lamont Bligen currently preparing early college applications.

"Everyone knows about the 'Prison on the Hill.' This is a good school," Wiltbanks told the Inquirer.

The school's athletic director agrees that those impressions are changing, and he thinks that Wiggins and her team are a big part of that shift.

"The young men who play for her have grown as a team. I'm very proud," Audenreid athletic director Bob Miller, whose son plays on Wiggins' team, told the Inquirer. "Here's a school in Grays Ferry. A lot of times, you hear stuff, and it's not good stuff. But, a lot of positive things have happened here, and I'm blessed to be a part of it."

For her part, Wiggins is hardly reluctant to embrace the role as a symbolic talisman for the school's improvement.

"This isn't a prison anymore. It's a school," Wiggins said. "Every time the doors are open, the community comes out to support."
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