In his new role, former Muhlenberg point guard Toomey Anderson ’03 is expanding access to athletics for the 17,000 students in the Allentown School District.
By: Meghan Kita
Monday, November 14, 2022 8:37 am
Toomey Anderson ’03. Photos by Marco Calderon
For the first time this fall, the youngest students in the Allentown School District can participate in extracurricular sports without leaving their school. Half of the 14 elementary schools in the county offer tennis and soccer, the other half flag football and… mixed martial arts (MMA).
“They won’t be in contact with each other,” says Toomey Anderson ’03, the first district athletics and activities coordinator K-12. “The technique, the training, the basics of learning boxing and kickboxing — all of those things are implemented.”
One of the reasons Allentown is adding sports for young students is to support middle and high school athletic programs, and wrestling, which is part of MMA, is a sport that the district hopes to develop. Another reason is to turn the district’s elementary and middle schools into community centers that offer after-school enriching activities (sports, arts, tutoring) in a safe, supervised environment until parents can pick up their children. Another is to improve attendance by giving children something to look forward to after a day in the classroom. But the main reason is that trying different activities is just good for kids.
“When you are young, your body is still developing and your mind is still growing and developing. Until you’re exposed to as many different things as possible, you don’t know what your true talent is,” says Anderson, who was a Muhlenberg physical education student and political science major. “I played different sports at that age. Whatever sport was on TV that day, [my friends and I] been out trying to play it.
Anderson eventually specialized in basketball, which he played at nearby Parkland High School. His first visit to campus was with his high school coach to watch the Scotty Wood tournament. Muhlenberg’s then-head basketball coach Dave Madeira recruited Anderson to play for the Mules. He was on the team from 1999 to 2003 and helped the Mules to three straight Centennial Conference playoff spots. He racked up nearly 800 career points as a point guard and earned an All-Centennial Honorable Mention as a senior. (Anderson also played a single football season at Muhlenberg that year: “I scored a touchdown, so it counts,” he jokes.)
After graduating, he taught algebra to Philadelphia students who had been removed from the public school system for a number of years before accepting a position with the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit as an emotional support interventionist. During this time, he also coached basketball: in Quakertown, at Allentown Central Catholic, and at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) track. In 2010, he began organizing the major regional basketball tournament, A-Town Throwdown, as part of the Lehigh Valley SportsFest at Allentown’s Cedar Beach Park.
In 2017, Anderson was hired for Allentown’s Executive Education Charter School – the CEO there had worked with Anderson in Philadelphia. Anderson served as Executive’s career and college advisor, as well as Assistant Athletic Director. He built the school’s track and field teams, and the boys’ basketball team won three District 11 championships during his tenure.
Also in 2017, the founder of the Lehigh Valley SportsFest decided to retire. It was unclear whether the event would continue. Anderson stepped in: “I had visions to do more than just sports,” he says. “I have a theme: Everything I do is called ‘awesome’.”
In the past he has run a “Camp Awesome” to introduce K-5 students from the cities and suburbs of the Lehigh Valley to a variety of activities and each other. He wanted to turn the Lehigh Valley SportsFest into Lehigh Valley AWESOME! Fest, which debuted in 2018. This year’s event had the A-Town Throwdown as its centerpiece, but also included art shows, music and comedy performances, and a variety of food vendors serving dishes from around the world.
“It’s a celebration of the arts, athletics, culture and entertainment,” says Anderson. “Allentown is a melting pot. I wanted to find a way to celebrate all the different aspects that we have and attract people and teams from across the region.”
Anderson began his role with the Allentown School District in February of this year, and he’s doing a lot more than just growing athletics and activities. That summer, he helped orchestrate the district’s Summer Scholars program, created to address learning losses related to COVID. The participating students spent their mornings working on academic content and their afternoons trying out different activities, including sports (such as soccer, flag football, volleyball, basketball and track and field), yoga and mindfulness, art and music. He is helping the district implement six-week student swimmer programs that will address a major safety issue and hopefully have the added effect of creating a more reliable summer lifeguard pipeline for the city. Anderson is also interviewing parents to lead an expansion of adaptive sports for students with disabilities in the district.
While the district has received state and federal funding to start new programs, additional funding is needed to address barriers to participation (such as good equipment and appropriate clothing) for some students. The ultimate goal, Anderson says, is for Allentown students to have an equal experience with students from more affluent suburban areas. Finding the right staff to run these programs is another challenge, but support has already been immense.
“The beauty of our district is that there are so many people who really care about these students,” says Anderson. “We have great support throughout the district and in our community, people who are committed and want to help the students.”