By OJ Spivey for the Philadelphia Tribune
Former Simon Gratz High School and Temple University basketball star Lynard Stewart is a well-known name in the history of Philadelphia sports, having played on the powerhouse Bulldogs teams of the early 1990s and then with the collegiate Owls on North Broad Street.
Currently, he is grooming the next generation of leaders through his Backboard program focused on empowering young men to connect with and improve their surrounding neighborhoods.
On Dec. 11, Stewart was honored with a Community Service Award during the 31st Germantown Community Basketball Tournament at Germantown Friends School. The tournament included city varsity teams from Friends, Gratz Mastery Charter, William Bodine High School for International Affairs, Parkway Northwest, Paul Robeson High School for Human Services and St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls.
Stewart returned to his high school alma mater in 2015 as its boys head basketball coach. His team was the runner-up for the tournament title to the host Germantown Friends. St. Hubert won the girls title over Friends.
Stewart wears several hats as the dean of students at Gratz, an assistant recreation leader for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and a behavioral health specialist at the Philadelphia Mental Health Center in Washington Square.
“Wearing those hats, I am often asked about it but it is almost like a normal routine day for me,” says Stewart. “Even if I feel tired, it is like, you know what? You had an impact on a lot of lives today, literally saving someone’s life.”
Dr. Zarah Adams, who presented the awards to Stewart and Jane Ellis, founder of Germantown Community Fridge, is director of community engagement at Germantown Friends School. “I think it is wonderful for our students and community members to see the leaders who are out supporting people and holding them together with all that is going on.”
Ellis, a teacher at Greene Street Friends School, founded the Germantown Community Fridge in 2020 to provide free perishable and non-perishable food to neighborhood residents in need. There are two locations: 20 W. Armat St. and 19 E. High St. Many groups and non-profits, including the GFS Upper School Community Engagement Club, help maintain and fill the fridges.
“We started the program in order to fight food insecurity, access, and to reduce food waste in the Northwest part of the city,” says Ellis. “It is open for people 24 hours, 7 days a week. Our slogan is ‘For the community, by the community’” Each school that participated in the twoday tournament also donated to the fridge in a food drive.
Stewart was mentored by two coaching giants in Philadelphia sports history, Bill Ellerbee at Gratz and the late John Chaney at Temple. Stewart is passing those life lessons on to a new generation of players. He still speaks with Ellerbee often.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the coaches in my life. They wasn’t just coaches to any of us,” Stewart says. “They were leaders, father figures, role models. Being able to call either of them on the phone, that is so important to me. I am constantly following in their footsteps and their shadows with the kids that I impact.”
The overall goal of the Germantown Friends’ community basketball tournament and awards ceremony was to celebrate three decades of connecting students and neighbors through a shared love of basketball and athletics.
“It takes a village to support one another,” Adams said. “It is so important that we see the humanity in everyone and I think the pandemic opened our eyes to that. It leveled the playing field and showed we all can use a little help sometimes.”