Commentary / Union Academy

YSC Academy graduates the class of 2024

Photo courtesy of YSC Academy

Friday morning June 7, 2024, within its first-floor space in the Union Power Plant building facing Chester’s waterfront, YSC Academy graduated its 19-member class of 2024.

The school has never had a large auditorium since its small population means the space it calls “town hall” suffices for school-wide meetings. Large screen TVs broadcasting the temporary stage accommodated guests, staff, and other visitors who overflowed the usual sight lines.

2024 specifically

A YSC graduation’s major characteristic remains the same as it always has been — short graduation speeches delivered by every graduating senior.

Both times PSP has witnessed the speeches live, we have remembered one of former Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart’s earliest public comments on founder Richie Graham’s school. Stewart was enthused about the poise and confidence shown by its students. That poise and confidence were displayed once again Friday morning.

Keynoting the event, class of 2016 YSC alumnus Auston Trusty spoke first.

The defender from Delaware County played 32 of Sheffield United’s 34 games in England’s Premier League this past season. He began in 2016 with Bethlehem Steel FC as an academy amateur on a series of zero-dollar amateur contracts that preserved his intent to play for North Carolina’s Tar Heels. Then his ambitions expanded. He progressed to the Union itself as a homegrown professional, followed by the Colorado Rapids, and then on to Arsenal where he was loaned to Birmingham City. He is now with Sheffield’s Blades.

In 2023 he earned his first cap with the US Men’s national team, joining others who have fulfilled the hope expressed eight-and-a-half years ago that some YSC graduates would do so. Trusty attributed the successes of his career to his trust and belief in himself, a theme that his former head of school Dr. Nooha Ahmed-Lee reinforced when she re-visited Trusty’s own graduation speech from eight years previously. He advised YSC’s new alumni to trust and believe as he has done.

Followimg Trusty, the members of YSC’s class of 2024 each spoke. After each speech, the speaker received warmly enthusiastic applause, his diploma was presented, and an official photograph with the head of school, the graduate, and the founder was taken.

Graduate Posi-tion Future plans
John Andrus LB Rutgers University
Sebastian Brandt Del Amo CB IE University – Spain
Francis Castillo RM Cádiz CF
Bajung Darboe AM LAFC
Edward Davis III S Career
Devon DeCorte CM RSC Anderlecht
Mohamed Ali Diallo RB Drexel University
Jonathan Evans GK Pennsylvania State University
Antonios Horozoglou F/AM Career
Daniel Kreuger CB Wake Forest University
Jordan Lawrence OB Loyola University – Maryland
Sal Olivas S Philadelphia Union
Alex Perez-Aguilar M Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Andrew Rick GK Philadelphia Union
Matthew Routzahn CM Arcadia University
Ritter Sundby CM Xavier University
David Vazquez AM Philadelphia Union
Francis Westfield OB Pennsylvania State University
Luke Zielinski AM Columbia University


At the end, after caps had been tossed and the face-splitting grins had processed away from the stage, there was a final group photo in front of the building (see above) followed by cupcakes and proud congratulations.

Factual notes
  • Above, the columns “Graduate” and “Future Plans” are quoted verbatim from the event’s printed program.
  • The column “Position” reflects coach Ian Hennessy’s knowledge. He is the soccer half of the academy’s counseling team that finds the best soccer and academic fit for each graduate. Hennesy coordinates with College Counsellor Gretchen D’Angelo, who, among her several other responsibilities, finds the academic one.
  • There are sixteen in the photo because Francis Castillo, Bajung Darboe, and David Vazquez graduated in absentia. Each delivered a pre-recorded speech from a remote location.
  • “Career” reflects that future plans remained uncertain on June 7.
  • Virginia Tech is the official nickname for Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Alex Perez’s next stop.
  • Devon DeCorte was accepted to Stanford University before deciding to join Anderlecht.
Five points
  1. The Academy’s training for remote instruction pays dividends beyond high school graduation. For example, recent graduate Quinn Sullivan currently does coursework remotely at the University of Pennsylvania. Years ago the Academy head of school helped Trusty himself pursue further work beyond secondary school. Current Union II professional and Academy rising senior CJ Olney hopes to study in the Ivy League as he plays professionally in the future.
  2. That Bajung Darboe chose to finish his high school degree with YSC Academy illustrates both his enthusiasm for the school and the school’s proficiency with remote instruction.
  3. Three of the graduates, and perhaps four, will pursue professional soccer away from the Philadelphia Union organization, showing that teams elsewhere see value in the Union’s Academy. The work now-departed Academy Director Tommy Wilson helped do to get academies like Philadelphia’s compensated for their work now provides at least some degree of recompense for the investment in those professionals who are going elsewhere.
  4. Three of the 2024 graduates have turned pro with Philadelphia, two with the first team and one with the second. That is a rate of return higher than founder Graham estimated when he introduced the academy to the public back in November 2016.
  5. That Auston Trusty came back during his summer break to be graduation’s keynote speaker speaks volumes for the school’s powerful sense of community. The school’s spirit is highly competitive. But school culture recognizes that competition can destroy as well as create, and that support and cooperation help all to advance even as competition throws forward the very best.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for covering this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *