For Star Wright, football is all-consuming. Her son Kion is a three-star defensive lineman for Cheltenham High School, a rising senior who’s fielding offers from Division 1 schools. Meanwhile, Wright is the founding owner and coach of the Philadelphia Phantomz, part of the Women’s National Football Conference.
“The time and energy she puts in — I have no idea,” Cheltenham football coach Troy Gore said. “She needs to write a book on how she balances that.”
Wright’s journey began on the sidelines of her son’s games over a decade ago in Northeast Philly.
“Most people would just sit down in their chairs, but she would be right there almost on the field with me, cheering me on if I was to make a play, jumping up and down, or talking trash right with me,” Kion told Billy Penn. “She almost had more energy than the football players.”
That energy prompted his coach to inquire if Wright had ever played before herself — and if she had interest in tryouts happening for a nearby women’s team. Having grown up an avid Eagles fan and a three-sport athlete, Star tried out.
Thirteen years later, she’s a professional player, coach, owner, and one of the leading advocates in making the game accessible to people everywhere.
“The goal of the Phantomz is, of course, to win a national championship,” Wright said about her team, which is in its second year as part of the WNFC . “But more importantly, it’s to inspire young girls with football dreams because now they can have football dreams. It was never like that before because we were always told, ‘No, we couldn’t.’”
Wright toggles between being coaching the Phantomz and being one of the nine players on the field. Last season, the team’s entire roster made the WNFC’s All-Pro list, and two years ago, the organization won “Fan Base of the Year.”
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The work stretches beyond the league via the Star Wright Foundation, founded in 2020.
“My foundation, where I go to Africa and teach football, that’s really my passion,” Wright said. “That’s really what I want to do forever: Go to Africa and build up the sport … That’s what feeds my soul out of the whole process of football.”
Her travels have shown several other countries further along in opening football up to women than the United States, she said. When the foundation goes to Egypt and Tunisia, for example, the focus is on building skills for already-established players and teams.
Elsewhere, foundation works from the ground up, providing equipment and basic training for absolute beginners. It was most recently in Ghana this February, where Wright hosted a football camp and donated laptops to three different schools. There are dual goals, she said: make the game seem fun, and let people see the opportunities it could provide.
“It just all depends on the needs of the community,” Wright said. “I assess the need, and then use my resources here in the states to be able to help them get what they need.”
When Wright isn’t throwing drills on fields in Philadelphia or Morocco, she and her son Kion are best friends. While they never fully turn football off, Kion said the two bond by trying new restaurants and together. But when Wright steps on the field at Cheltenham High as assistant coach, that love turns tough.
“She doesn’t take it easy on him,” Gore, the team’s head coach and Wright’s boss, said. “She really puts her all into coaching all of those kids and she doesn’t treat Kion special.”
Wright still deals with the anxieties of many Philadelphia area parents, and she cited a surge in gun violence as one of reasons for transferring her son from Northeast Philadelphia High School to Cheltenham. During the summer of 2021, Kion lost one of his best friends to a shooting.
“It’s really hard raising an African-American teenager in the city with all the things that’s going on in this world,” Wright said.
For Kion, the loss of his friend became a motivator. “It really hit hard. It had my mind going to all types of places,” he said. “I played with a lot of aggression last season and [the thought of],’I have to get out of this city. I have to get out of Philadelphia.’ That played a huge part in my success last season.”
Kion has received more than a dozen Division 1 offers from schools like West Virginia, Penn State and Texas A&M. He said his final decision will take into account not just the school’s reputation for winning, but its ability to provide players with a sense of purpose beyond scoring touchdowns.
“I want to be a part of a family,” he said. Because for the Wrights, family and football have always been inseparable.
“We just bounce off each other’s knowledge,” Kion said of his mom. “If she says something, I agree with it because I know it’s the right thing to do. And I say something, she has trusted me to believe that I know what I’m talking about as well.”