Former football star paying it forward in Norristown

Ernest "Tre" Hadrick, serving as a lunchroom monitor, interacts with students at Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy, where he is a counselor.
Ernest "Tre" Hadrick, serving as a lunchroom monitor, interacts with students at Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy, where he is a counselor. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 29, 2012

Returning to the rough streets of Norristown was not in Ernest "Tre" Hadrick's long-term playbook.

The college football star had hoped for a pro career, but his dreams were dashed by a series of concussions.

He returned home to live with his parents, and with that came the constant reminder of his father's lifetime mantra: Never forget Norristown. Since then, nearly every turn in Hadrick's life has pulled him closer to the place where some of his childhood classmates ended up dead or being sent to prison.

 Hadrick, 30, spent six years counseling troubled youngsters in the Montgomery County Youth Center and is now a guidance counselor at his middle school alma mater, the Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy.

Last year, he founded Norristown Men of Excellence (NMOE) to harness the talents and expertise of the student athletes he grew up with and to help improve Norristown. NMOE aims to mentor young people, provide enrichment activities, and do what the group calls "M.O.R.E." for the borough. That is: "motivating our community to reach excellence.

"Norristown is lacking in strong, young, educated men who can help groom and mentor our young boys and girls," Hadrick said.

So far, NMOE has distributed Thanksgiving turkeys for needy families, participated in nighttime antiviolence patrols, and been instrumental in helping the municipality secure a $27,000 state grant to fund community improvement efforts.

The group's 40 members are on call whenever a family is in need of help.

"I just got a call from a mother who needed food," Hadrick said in his office at Eisenhower. "I called a buddy and he's going to make it happen."

Hadrick's pals and NMOE members are the guys he shared playing fields with in the days when he was a star athlete.

Members include Sheldon Gray, the organization's vice president and a deposit operations banker, and Carl Moore, an administrator at Community College of Philadelphia. All NMOE members earned college degrees, studied a trade, or served in the military, and now have successful careers.

"A lot of us looked up to and were mentored by a few different coaches or role models," Gray said. "Now it's our turn to give back."

The group began in August 2011 when Norristown Councilman Marlon Millner asked Hadrick to lead an effort to involve young adults in neighborhood improvement programs.

Hadrick enlisted 40 men, ages 28 to 32. Most of the members are African American, with one Latino, but all men are welcome to join.

Hadrick's father, Ernest Jr., a longtime community activist who also grew up in the municipality, describes the Norristown of today as a place where "a lot more people are struggling and family life isn't as good as it should be for every child."

Tre Hadrick says he had it good. His mother, Bonita Hadrick, now retired, was a teacher and counselor in the Norristown Area School District. His father, who also grew up as a star athlete, is a renowned track coach with the district and a counselor at the high school.

"Growing up with a living legend as a father, you're held to high standards, and sometimes you just don't want to meet" those standards, Tre Hadrick said, "but I was never the biggest knucklehead."

Throughout school, he wrestled, ran track, and played football, baseball, soccer, and basketball. His rebellion - if you can call it that - was electing to focus on football in high school and not the track and field coached by his father.

Hadrick played college ball at North Carolina A&T State University, where his team won a conference championship. But when Hadrick was knocked out cold on the field in 2002, it was the beginning of the end. He suffered a series of smaller concussions over the next several years. A neurologist eventually told him that it would be dangerous to continue.

"You play all your life. You put so much time into it. I was depressed," Hadrick said. His grades suffered at first, but he went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business management.

When he came home, Hadrick began reconnecting with his hometown, and earned a master's degree in school counseling at Wilmington University. He now lives in Norristown with his wife, Duperly.

At Eisenhower, where he is a long-term sub, Hadrick helps out with the robotics team, and started an initiative in which school staff wear college T-shirts on Fridays to encourage students to strive for a college education.

Hadrick's professionalism and daily presence provide a good role model for Eisenhower's 540 students, who are predominantly African Americans and Latinos, said Christina Taylor, the school principal. Hadrick is one of two black men on the 60-member school faculty.

Hadrick said NMOE will go on and he will continue to work on behalf of Norristown even if he doesn't get to remain at Eisenhower. But he said he's not running away from home. He plans on staying put.


Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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