The sound of shoulder pads making impact and commands from coaches permeated Legion Field as the Palmyra Panthers football teams practiced on a recent Wednesday evening to prepare for their season opener.
These same sounds were heard at Legion Field 50 years ago, when the Palmyra PALs prepared for their season and served as a feeder to the great Palmyra High School football teams of the 1970s.
Learning the fundamentals of the game back then were Kansas City Chiefs All-Star safety Deron Cherry, and his brothers Duane and Derrick, and Washington Redskins (Commanders) wide receiver Derek Holloway, and his brother, Kevin Holloway.
Other great high-school players on the field with them included John Tait, David Wallace and Mike Butler as Palmyra High won the South Jersey Group 1 Championship in both 1975 and 1978.
The tradition of the Palmyra PALs developing smart, athletic football players continues under the umbrella of the Palmyra Panthers Youth Football Association. Under the lights on that Wednesday night, budding stars on the Panthers’ teams were excited for the first game of the season at home last Saturday.
On an adjacent field and also getting ready were the Panthers’ cheerleaders practicing their routines with energy and enthusiasm.
The 65-pound Panthers kicked off that first game of the season on Sept. 16 with a flag football matchup at 9 a.m. The 90-pound tackle team played at 10 a.m., followed by the 105-pound team at noon and the 120-pounders at 2 p.m.
“We are hoping to go back to the playoffs,” said Mike Kahana, who is coaching the 120-pound team along with Rob Thress, Willie Wise, Matt Bill and Sean Fisher. Last year, the players – then on the 105-pound – earned a spot in the playoffs, but this year they would like to win the championship.
“I really enjoy coaching. I’ve been doing it the last 12 years,” noted Kahana, adding that there are eight regular-season games followed by the playoffs.
Especially excited were the players, all padded up and wearing helmets as they went through the drills for offense, defense and special teams. The players on this year’s 120 pound Panthers roster are Mikey Airall, Rafael Gonzalez, Alex Kahana, Carter Harris, Thomas Norton, Max Hauger, Braylen Wise, Josh Ca, James Lyons, Shane Stevens, Matt Bill, Derek Fisher, Jose Ruiz, Robert Thress, Elijah Pazmino and Jerrell Vadell.
Perhaps they don’t hear the echoes of past successes on Legion Field, but the young players are looking to reach their goals and continue the tradition of former Palmyra PALs teams now known as the Palmyra Panthers.
Those Panthers are ready to write their own history of great football in the town that’s “more than just a bridge.”