String Theory seniors leave big shoes to fill

String Theory junior Jajuan Nelson dunks in a match against Strawberry Mansion earlier this season at the Guerin Recreation Center in South Philly. String Theory completed its best season in school history. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

They build a basketball story in harmony.

The Philadelphia Performing Arts: String Theory Charter School isn’t usually mentioned first when it comes to the city’s high school basketball powerhouses. But it happens.

In less than a decade as a high school and barely half a dozen years as a basketball program, the Knights have built a top team at their high school located at 1600 Vine St.

Most of the players have roots in South Philadelphia as the school originated on South Broad Street, where it still serves second through fifth graders. High school basketball home games are played under the dim lights of the Guerin Recreation Center at 16th and Jackson streets. And their head coach is a proud guy from South Philly who was an All-Public League catcher on the Girard Academic Music Program baseball team before he graduated in 2007.

Coach Eric Funaro loves seeing String Theory’s thriving athletic programs, especially the men’s basketball team, which just completed its best season in school history.

“I hope our success not only inspires people to play here, but also more of our eighth graders to stay here,” said Funaro, who coaches the boys in basketball and baseball and is the school athletic director. “Hopefully they’re starting to see that we’re building a program that’s starting to have success. We’ve always seen it inside here, but now we’re starting to see it outside here.

The Knights tied a school record with 14 wins this year, but earned their first Philadelphia Public League playoff wins by advancing two rounds to the last eight before retiring in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion. of Imhotep Institute Charter High School Public League. The Knights also qualified for the PIAA State Tournament for the second time in school history.

“When we lost in the United States the other night, and when the reality turned out to be our last moment of the season with those seniors, it started to sink in,” Funaro said. “Now that the season is over and we can relax, I think (the seniors) will be able to look back and realize what we have done here.”

The Knights finished first in the PPL “C” Division and the team was battle tested as Funaro piled the non-league schedule with plenty of testing talent, which included Catholic league opponents Philadelphia Bonner- Prendergast, St. Joe’s Prep, and Cardinal O’Hara.

“It was the toughest non-league schedule I could put together,” Funaro said. “We were able to get schools from the Catholic League, the League of Friends and even (New) Jersey. We were able to extend our non-league calendar to a level that put us a bit more on the map.

The Knights shone in the spotlight, led by veterans Michael Varallo, Carlos Astacio, Riyaad Oliver and Timmy Gravelle.

Varallo and Astacio, originally from South Philadelphia, served as co-captains. They were both former players under Funaro for St. Monica’s Roman Catholic School on 16th Street.

“I thought they not only had the respect of their senior comrades, but of the underclass as well,” Funaro said. “I trusted them that they were going to train and perform. They were responsible. I saw these qualities in them as they entered first and second grade.

The Class of 2022 left big shoes to fill. The class of 2023 is eager to fill them. Junior brothers Jajuan and Javon Nelson, along with classmate Chris Valerio, were integral to the record-breaking team. Like those before them, most String Theory players have been around for a long time.

“What I always really like about our team is that most of our team comes from our college in South Philly,” Funaro said. “There really haven’t been any transfers or anyone else added to our team. We’re proud of that. We built it internally. It’s an honor to do that these days in high school sports.

Now that the wheels are in motion and the team will be moving up to PPL Division B next winter, String Theory expects to earn even more recognition.

“Former students are coming back and they appreciate being the start of the program, and I think this group will see what they’ve built and how our younger students have something to follow,” Funaro said. “We shouldn’t just be happy to have had the success we’ve had this year, we should now start to expect it.”

Sharon D. Cole