Coach Bill Ellerbee is a legendary coach in the Philadelphia basketball community. Throughout his life of coaching, which includes 20 years as head coach of Simon Gratz High School and a stint as Temple University’s Assistant, Coach Bill Ellerbee has served as a role model for hundreds of young people in Philadelphia. Coach Ellerbee understands the significant role mentorship plays in the lives of young people, and he strives to have a positive influence on all of the players he coaches.
Coach Ellerbee became involved with PYB after he met Co-founder and President, Kenny Holdsman, who showed him his work at Legacy Youth Tennis and Education. When Kenny asked Coach Ellerbee joinPhiladelphia Youth Basketball’s movement, he welcomed the opportunity to make a difference. Coach Ellerbee likes to express to his pupils that “Basketball acts as a stage. Use the stage in order to help yourself in help propel you in other aspects of life besides basketball.”
During his days at Simon Gratz, Coach Ellerbee would have his players sit in a classroom every day for an hour before practice or a game to receive tutoring help or do their homework, which is one of the ways Coach Ellerbee reinforced that education comes before basketball.
A highlight os his career is when Coach Ellerbee can tell that he has made an impact on the kids in this city. Back at Gratz, Coach Ellerbee knew a student who dropped out of school before his senior year. When the student idd not show up for the first day of classes, Coach Ellerbee took action. At 6:30AM before the third day of school, Coach Ellerbee went to the young man’s house, knocked on the door, and told him to get back to school. Years later, Coach Ellerbee ran into that same man again, and that’s when he thanked his coach, after earning a college degree saying, “Mr. Ell, you saved my life.”
Based on his decades of coaching, Coach Ellerbee has hundreds of similar stories. One such story is about a 12-year-old Aaron McKie, who would go on to play in the NBA. Observing the talent of young McKie’s team, Coach Ellerbee decided to coach a lesser talented team where he felt he was more needed. Upset at the decision, McKie did not talk to Coach Ellerbee for over a year – only after McKie’s team had won the city championship. While the situation was tough on both Coach Ellerbee and McKie, it taught a valuable lesson about loyalty to teammates and overcoming adversity in the face of change. “Sometimes things don’t go the way you want,” Coach Ellerbee remarked, “and you will always have to adjust to change.”
As a Vietnam war veteran, Coach Ellerbee knew how to fight back when you’ve been beaten down; however, some situations challenged him as a mentor to his young people. Whether is was advising a young man who’s father left and mother passed away within the same month, or fighting to keep a trouble student on the right path, Coach Ellerbee has fought for his players and mentees every step of the way. “As an adult, you have to be ready to reel in a young person so that they don’t head too far down the wrong track.”
Coach Ellerbee learned from his role models, mainly his father, and now we are fortunate at PYB to have him working to positively influence all of the young people in our programs.
By Harris Edelman, Corporate Intern