THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF INJUSTICE
THIS WEBSITE IS DEDICATED TO EXPOSING THE TRUE INJUSTICE SUFFERED BY LENWOOD "SKIP" HAMILTON
Hamilton's future at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High never materializes after he's involved in an incident with a counselor at Silver Springs that gets him expelled. A counselor tells Hamilton to turn down his stereo, and Hamilton asks why he has to when a boy across the hall is playing his stereo. When the counselor approaches Hamilton's stereo – his most prized possession – Hamilton picks up a screwdriver and tries to keep the counselor away from the stereo. The act gets Hamilton expelled from Silver Springs and he's literally out on the street. "I was kind of staying with a brother in Black Horse but I was really out on the street. My case worker told me to hang in there a couple more days and maybe they can find another place for me," Hamilton says. "If not, they were talking about putting me in VisionQuest, a traveling boot camp taking care of horses that went across the country during the Bicentennial." Almost out of desperation, juvenile officials decide to move Hamilton from the Philadelphia area and give him one last chance to live in a residential setting and attend a public school. He is sent "up north" for placement at the Children's Home of Easton (Pa.). He is enrolled at nearby Wilson Area High School to start the 1975-76 school year and is one of only a handful of minority students and the only African-American athlete. This begins a Jackie Robinson-like saga for not only Hamilton but the Wilson students, who come from a small, tight-knit community and rural township that is exclusively white. "It was the first time I encountered racism," Hamilton says. "I didn't have no girl friend because I couldn't date a white girl and there were no black girls. When I was playing football and scoring touchdowns I was all right. When I fell in love and got a white girl pregnant I was a nigger."
Mike Danjczek, a former Lehigh University heavyweight wrestler, is a larger than life figure who runs the Children's Home of Easton. He is Hamilton's first father figure and the one person Hamilton truly admires and respects. Every time Hamilton encounters trouble or a crisis, Danjczek is there to pick him up, to support him, to set him back on the right course even long after Hamilton is not a resident of the home. Administrators like Danjczek, who risk everything for their clients, are rare but beloved. Hamilton, once he returns to work for the Children's Home at a satellite group home just a few years ago, comes to appreciate what Danjczek and his case workers sacrificed for him. "He was a big dude," Hamilton says. "He had this picture of him wrestling Chris Taylor in the Olympic Trials. When I first came to the Home, I had to go into an interview with him. Mr. (John) McGee, my caseworker from Philadelphia, brought me up to it." Joe Gonzalez, his caseworker at the children's home and now a senior administrator at the facility, also serves as a surrogate father, prodding Lenwood to train a little harder, study a little more diligently. Lenwood arrives on the bucolic campus overlooking the Lehigh River with a handful of clothes and the stereo he protected with his life. "When Skip came to the Children's Home, that was a time when we were first bringing in kids from Philadelphia." Gonzalez says. "Today, half the kids placed in in-need home care in the state are from Philadelphia. It shows the decay of the city."
Hamilton's dream is to play in the National Football League and he builds an impressive resume at Wilson, not only on the football field but as a basketball player and in track and field. He arrives for the first day of football practice wearing a leather Plymouth-Whitemarsh varsity jacket and a red beanie hat. He doesn't say a word in the locker room as he awaits to receive his equipment. None of the players know who he is; some think this 6-foot-2, 220-pound physical specimen is a pro athlete who is a friend of one of the Wilson coaches. Instead, he's a high school sophomore thrust into a new environment. Foolishly, the coaches stick him with the junior varsity team for the first morning session. Wisely, the coaches move him across the street to practice with the varsity, for good. Hamilton plays on the defensive line his first season, and as he learns the offensive plays becomes a featured running back as a junior and a senior. Hamilton's combination of size and breakaway speed draws the attention of many major college football programs. Letters arrive from Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Maryland, Boston College and even Nebraska. Most of the letters, however, Hamilton never sees because in reality the only school he has a chance of surviving at is North Carolina State, the alma mater of Wilson coach Pete Sokalsky and where Easton native Chuck Amato is an assistant coach. A support network is in place to ensure Hamilton, if he does the bare minimum, will remain academically eligible and thrive on the football field. What's really amazing is Hamilton, though functionally illiterate, is able to get this far in high school so he can qualify for college. "I'd write numbers down and I'd write them backwards," Hamilton says looking back. "I probably had dyslexia but they didn't know nothing about that back then. They just figured I was dumb or didn't care." The Children's Home does its best to provide Hamilton with tutors, but the catching up process is just too great to bring Hamilton up to the level of his fellow college-bound peers. "Skip's starting line was different. He was running a mile when everyone else was running the 100-yard dash," Gonzalez says. "The fact that he had about a fourth-grade reading level and could get halfway through college showed what kind of survival instinct he had."
Hamilton spends 2½ years (1978-80) at North Carolina State and is unstoppable, first as a back-up running back and then as a defensive tackle. Unfortunately, most of his starring moments are on the practice field, even after incurring a knee injury that precipitated the move to defensive tackle as he grew into a 6-foot-2, 280-pound beast. Without the boundaries often set earlier in life through a family structure he never experienced, Hamilton also is unchained off the field – partying to the hilt and rarely, if ever, studying or going to class. Most of his classes are beyond his comprehension and he's too proud to ask for help. It's easier to look for a co-ed to have a good time than to try and find the campus library. "They'd be discussing Aristotle and purgatory, and I'd say 'what the fuck?' I'd rather go get some pussy than go to class," Hamilton says. "I had more women and got high so much." Hamilton quickly creates a legacy that, though brief, still resonates with former N.C. State teammates to this day. "Skip, he's one of those once in a lifetime people you meet," says his former teammate Karl Hollingsworth. "He'd give you the shirt off his back, do anything for you. He was feared and he was passionate in his belief that if you were his friend he'd fight to the end for you. To me and some others down there, Skip was a legend." Head coach Bo Rein leaves N.C. State for the same post at Louisiana State University. and new coaching staff tries to run Hamilton off the squad during spring practice sessions in 1980. Hamilton refuses to give in, fighting everything the new coaching staff throw at him. Ultimately, Hamilton was informed later in the summer he would not be invited back for the 1980 fall season because the coaches have no time for a talented player who owns a failing grade point average. "They ran 30-40 plays at me, trying to run me off the team," Hamilton says with fire in his voice. "I refused to quit. I said, 'Coach, you can't break me. My teammates gave me a standing ovation. But then they called me when I got home for the summer and told me they didn't want me back. It hurts now to see (N.C. State) teammates who made it to the NFL and I was left behind."
Hamilton returns to Easton believing he's a failure, though he still hangs on to his dream of playing in the National Football League. He initially lives at the Easton Children's Home but moves on to live above a pool hall and then for a bit with the mother of his child. He works anywhere they'll pay him, even negotiating minor drug deals while working as a bouncer at local clubs. "I'd use, too, marijuana, cocaine, but never no needles," Hamilton says. "A string of menial jobs leaves him little. Still, the network of men in the Easton area who looked out for Hamilton when he was at Wilson and steered him to N.C. State, continue to pull strings behind the scenes. Amato, the former coach at N.C. State who moved on to Arizona State, makes some phone calls and arranges for Hamilton to enroll at either Southern or Grambling State, two historically black schools in Louisiana. Hamilton prefers Southern, in Baton Rouge, where a young, former N.C. State assistant coach, Buddy Green, is the team's defensive coordinator. Hamilton embarks on a vigorous correspondence course curriculum with the help of his Easton friends to regain his academic eligibility. "A guy named Hoddy Grollman was helping me," Hamilton says. "He told there are no shortcuts." Hamilton begins training with close friend Gino Nolasco at an equally frenetic pace at a field less than 100 yards from the Children's Home of Easton.