2017-12-20 / Local News

Football-loving KBA 6th grader plays in national championship game


FAMILY: Parents Brett and Jennifer; brother Blake, 9

HOMETOWN: Voorhees



Kellman Brown Academy sixth-grader Sky Sholder is having an amazing year. The only kid in the Jewish day school who plays tackle football, he was ecstatic when the year kicked off with a surprise tour of Lincoln Financial Field and the opportunity to meet KBA alumnus Ari Roitman, who works for the Eagles. As the fall unfolded, both his beloved ‘Birds’ and his own team, the Eastern Junior Vikings, soared.

And while the NFL post-season is still weeks away, the Vikings completed their season 6-2 and went on to take first place in the U-12 Chesapeake Division regional championship tournament earlier this month. That brought the team into uncharted territory: The chance to compete in the National Youth Football Championship tournament at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dec. 14-17.

Sky, who spoke to the Voice in early December—in the little time he had between the end of the school day and football practice— was of course counting the days before it would all begin.

“I’m probably as excited as I’ll be watching the Eagles play in the Super Bowl,” he said. “We have some really talented kids on the team who could really take it to the next level. I believe we have team-championship caliber.”

If you ask Jennifer Sholder, Sky’s mom, about her son’s love of football, you begin to realize the depth of his passion.

“He was born obsessed with football,” she said simply.

By the age of two, as fate would have it, the young boy’s closest friend was Dion Brown, the son of then Eagle cornerback Sheldon Brown. Some of Sky’s earliest memories are of cheering on Dion’s dad from the Eagles clubhouse on game day. The inseparable toddlers were always playing ball on their play dates until, sadly, Brown was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 2010.

When he was five, finally old enough to play, Sky joined the Vikings. His rookie year season didn’t quite match up to his fantasies of football glory, but he persevered.

“I was a running back in the first year,” the Kellman Brown Academy sixth grader recalled. “It was very hard because of the helmet and all the gear. I felt weighed down.”

It didn’t take long for Sky both to grow into the gear and get used to the rigors of the team sport. Over the years, he has also played quarterback and tight end for the team. This year he became the kicker after the coaches discovered his impressive foot.

While his KBA friends have been supportive of his passion, he takes some good-natured flack for being the only one either allowed to, or with the desire, to play tackle football. Some would play, he said, but their parents are fearful.

This concern is not without merit. A growing number of scientists recommend that children between the ages of 10 and 12 refrain from playing due to the way the brain develops in adolescence. This, coupled with chilling tales of former players who were diagnosed post-mortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has taken a toll on the little leagues. Not surprisingly, participation in tackle football by boys ages six to 12 has fallen by nearly 20 percent since 2009, though it rose 1.2 percent, to 1.23 million, in 2015, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

Sky says he is well aware of the risk associated with playing the game he loves.

“I think my parents trust me,” he said. “I’ve been playing for seven years and I know the right way to tackle. You don’t lead with your head.”

Jennifer Sholder said she is used to being questioned about allowing Sky to play. She noted that Blake, her younger son, opted himself for flag football.

“Yes, I am concerned and I still pray all the time on the field, but I do believe the coaches taught them well,” said Sholder, who is KBA’s director of enrollment. “My brother grew up playing all his life, so I’m used to it. This is his passion.”

Sky is realistic about his future in football. While he would love to have a job connected to the sport, playing pro ball is not the dream. Meeting Ari Roitman, the KBA graduate who is senior vice president of business for the Eagles, during the trip to the Linc was a revelation. Roitman spoke to the kids about his job, but also about the value of his KBA education.

“No one was as excited as me,” said Sky. “I want his job.” 

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