Dan Penix (who currently resides in Monmouth County, New Jersey) was a star athlete at Trenton Central High School back in the late 80s thru early 90s. A standout track and field and soccer player for the Tornadoes, Penix went on to accept a track and field scholarship to Rider University in 1991 and later served in the military and even played soccer professionally overseas before becoming an Olympic Development Coach and one of the top Youth Soccer coaches in the country.
On Saturday, May 13, 2023, Penix took time away from his busy schedule and was back in his hometown of Trenton assisting, mentoring, and coaching the youth of the city for the second time within the year. Penix’s efforts, in conjunction with the Trenton Makes Athletic Center (TMA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, put on it’s third spring session of its Sports Builds Character Soccer/Training session, which has been sponsored by the likes of 2023 Super Bowl participants, The Philadelphia Eagles, held at the MLK Junior Middle School field in Trenton.
Alongside the TMA Center’s Founder/CEO Chester Jones, Penix informed the youth how he, like them, grew up in Trenton and even attended the large prominent yet vacant school that stood in the background. “That’s the junior high school I attended as a youth,” explained Penix who is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, which stands by the motto, “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity”.
“A lot of memories come across my mind looking over there… that’s Junior High School #1 (which later became the Martin Luther King Jr. School), the school was huge and had everything in it, including a gymnasium and Olympic-sized pool.”
“I wish they [would] do something with it (the school) … look … it’s been vacant for like 20 years and is still standing.” Penix, added. “The youth today don’t really understand the history and significance of this school.”
Unfortunately, just two days after reminiscing about his former school, the NJ historical monument went up in flames. On Monday, May 15, 2023 at approximately 2:15 p.m., emergency calls were placed about flames coming out of the roof of the school as the historical building burned down throughout the entire day, resulting in a 5-alarm fire.
“When I heard about it and saw it on the news…all I could do was shake my head,” said Penix. “I’m glad no one was injured. After being up there for the event – I immediately contacted my dad and shared the videos and pictures of me there with the youth with the school in the background just yards away, now it’s gone. I’m saddened and shocked; this one hurts,” Penix added.
For some, the loss of such a monumental stature should spark a movement for immediate improvement.
“Think about it for [a] second! This building has been in deplorable condition for close to 20 years now, and it’s sad that it took something like this to spark a conversation to tear it down,” said Chester Jones.
“Our “Sports Build Character” program co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Eagles, has been held on the MLK Jr. Middle school field for several weeks now, and our kids have had to train on the field with this blight in the background,” Jones added. “This is the reason why we are steadfast in asking for support from our community and city leadership to help the TMA Center create a safer environment that is conducive to the development of our youth, who have become desensitized to the unordinary conditions of our city.”
This story was written and reported by sports analyst Christopher Melvin, who has appeared on various networks including ESPN, MSG, and CBS Sports.