Basketball coach Dan Jackson has grown into job at Math, Civics & Sciences

Math, Civics & Sciences coach Dan Jackson took over the school's basketball program seven seasons ago, when he was 19.
Math, Civics & Sciences coach Dan Jackson took over the school's basketball program seven seasons ago, when he was 19. (   LOU RABITO / Staff)
Posted: February 18, 2013

Dan Jackson has "youngest coach" in one of his e-mail addresses.

It refers to when he took over the Math, Civics & Sciences boys' basketball program seven seasons ago, at age 19.

It doesn't begin to explain what he went through to get there.

Except for the year when he started college, Jackson has been at Math, Civics & Sciences in one role or another since the eighth grade.

Before that, starting with the fifth grade, he attended three private schools.

He got kicked out of all three.

"I was what you'd call 'a behavior problem,' " Jackson said. "Just a little hardheaded, not really respectful. My mom had run out of options. She wasn't going to put me in the public-school system, because she had brought me up in private schools."

Gwendolyn Jackson knew of Veronica Joyner, who had founded Math, Civics & Sciences in 1999, and called her. Dan Jackson remembers the day that the school held a lottery to admit students.

His name was selected.

It was a match made in hoops heaven.

Jackson, 26, has led the Mighty Elephants, one of the city's top high school basketball teams, to a 23-2 record. He won a PIAA state title in 2011 and is 151-71 in his career.

Those are heady resumé entries for a guy who didn't play much basketball while growing up, didn't play that well, and wasn't prepared at first to coach - not to mention a guy who, by his own admission, didn't know his place as a child and rebelled against authority enough for three schools to show him the door.

"I just wasn't doing the right thing," Jackson said. "I was acting up, being a menace in school.

"And if it wasn't for my mom, seeing the wisdom of bringing me here - even though I necessarily didn't want to come here - if it wasn't for her wisdom and Ms. Joyner's acceptance, all of this stuff that is happening now wouldn't have been possible in my life."

Joyner, also the school's chief administrative officer, recalled meeting with Gwendolyn Jackson and sensing that she needed help. Joyner told her she would take her son under her wing. Joyner put him in leadership roles, on the mock-trial team and in student government.

"I think he was just trying to find his way a little bit and he just needed a little coaching," Joyner said. "The love and support I gave him made the difference, because I took a personal interest in him.

"In fact, all the staff here would call him 'the vice principal' because he was always doing something with me or involved in some activity at the school - to get him to see the qualities that he had, that he could use that energy in a positive way."

Jackson, who said he never played basketball before he enrolled at the North Broad Street school, helped persuade Joyner to start a program, first at an intramural level. Math, Civics & Sciences joined the city's charter schools league in the early 2000s. Jackson described himself as a ninth- or 10th-man type as a player.

He graduated in 2004, and Joyner was set to bring him back the next year as a part-time assistant coach for a team that was a season away from joining the Public League. Jackson, though, was looking for full-time work with benefits, and Joyner wanted to help further hone his leadership skills.

So Math, Civics & Sciences created a full-time position, assistant to the head of security. (His duties have grown to include assisting the dean of students and monitoring lunches for the school's 1,000 students in grades one through 12.) And when the head coach soon left, Jackson took over.

With hardly any playing background and even less coaching experience, he was an easy target for criticism.

Jackson was coaching teenagers, and he was still a teenager himself.

"Across the board, from my colleagues in coaching, from kids here at school, and just from outside spectators, a lot of people just felt as though 'He doesn't know what he's doing, he won't be successful, he never played in the city, he doesn't really know city kids, he's a kid himself,' " Jackson said.

"I got it all. I got it all. I used it as motivation. I made up my mind that this is something I wanted to do. Ms. Joyner has entrusted it to me, and I wanted to make the best impression, not only to Ms. Joyner and to the school, but for myself."

Jackson said he read many books about coaching and strategy. He also learned a lot from Imhotep Charter coach Andre Noble, who allowed him to watch Imhotep practices.

Jackson has grown from a coach who ran practices by rolling out the balls and letting the guys play into a coach who prides himself on his teaching.

A lot of the instruction focuses on defense. That stems from the days when the team didn't have much talent, and keeping the score down provided a better chance to win.

The talent level has increased steadily. Jackson has three Division I-bound seniors: guard Britton Lee and forward Jeremiah Worthem (both Robert Morris), and forward Quadir Welton (St. Peter's). But the preaching about defense continues.

That's not, however, why players at times call him "Preacher Danny."

Jackson is executive minister at New Kingdom Baptist Church in North Philadelphia and takes ministry classes at a local branch of Geneva College. He said he is scheduled to be ordained in April.

The players know that if they act out, Jackson will alert them.

"He gives us this little look, lets us know we're acting crazy," Lee said. "He pushes his little glasses down, straight-faced. Because, you know, he's always smiling. He just stops, and he looks at us."

Next up for Math, Civics & Sciences, after its final-second loss Saturday to Vaux in the Public League Class A final, is the PIAA state tournament. That is scheduled to begin March 8.

A few weeks after turning 27, the "youngest coach" could add another state title to a resumé that has filled up quickly.

"I'm very proud of him," Joyner said. "He has turned out to be a very good citizen. . . . He's really the role model for a lot of the high school students here."


Contact Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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