Making Young People Better in Classroom and Football Field
A school for kids with special needs in the Southeast Delco School District has two very special men on their team. They are educators by day and football coaches by evening, but the way Delco Academy’s Chris Knechel and Dan Drake explain it they are coaches all the time.
Drake is the team leader at Delco Academy, responsible for the school’s climate. Knechel is a high school math and science teacher. Drake is also the head football coach at Williamson College of Trades in Media, PA, a three-year trade school that is free for those students who qualify academically and who are economically deserving of a free education. Knechel is the offensive line coach.
So how do Dan and Chris juggle their jobs?
“We’re lucky in that football practice runs from 5:00-7:00 in the evening,” Knechel says. “When we leave school at about 3:00 we go to the football office to plan our practices, watch film and get ourselves prepared for college-level football.”
Williamson College plays a full eight-game junior college schedule against the likes of Valley Forge Military Academy in the Seaboard Conference.
For Knechel and Drake, the coaching skills come into play at their day jobs. Delco Academy is a therapeutic program for students in grades K-12 who are experiencing emotional, behavioral, and academic challenges.
“We coach kids on how to handle certain situations and how to overcome adversity, similar to what we teach in football,” Drake said. “We prepare our players not only to play the game but also to better themselves as men. Both of us do the same at school, bettering students educationally but also preparing them to go on to bigger and better things.”
Delco Academy, now in its second year of operation in Collingdale, fosters a therapeutic classroom environment and emphasizes the social, emotional, and intellectual development of each child. Executive Director Drew Stem says Williamson would be a great future option for some of these students.
“The school fits the needs of our kids,” he says. “Not every student is made for attending a four-year college. This kind of trade school offers them an opportunity to earn credentials in a trade and go into a career right out of school.”
Being accepted to Williamson is highly competitive. The school looks for strong academics and character and a lack of financial resources to attend a tuition-based college.
When asked which they prefer, coaching football or educating students, Dan and Chris are diplomatic.
“Football has been our entire lives,” Knechel says. “I played on a state championship team in high school and played at the college level and even Arena football. Would I love to be a full-time coach, absolutely, but I’m also in a master’s program because I also want to be a principal. I would put the two on even ground. We use collaboration, leadership, and teamwork in both areas.”
“I hold both jobs in very high regard,” Drake says. “I get to work with young people, trying to get them an opportunity to make better choices for their future. That goes for both positions.”