The Philly Cannons Story
Roger Beckwith spent the better part of his youth in Franklin County as a student at Scotland School.
He is returning Sunday in a much different capacity.
Beckwith is, as he describes it, the "owner/coach/GM" of the Philly Cannons, a semi-pro basketball team based in Philadelphia, that is getting ready for its first season in the American Basketball Association (ABA).
The Cannons will take on the Pittsburgh Bullets in an exhibition game at 3:30 Sunday at Alpha Gym (formerly Marshall Frey Gym) on the Scotland Campus. The public is invited to attend; admission is $10, and kids 5 and under are free.
"I spent 12 years in Franklin County when I was going to school at Scotland, so it's like a second home to me," Beckwith said. "I want to maintain some connection with this area."
The team will have some connections, too. Two former Scotland School players, Will Harmon and Marcus Spence, are currently on the Cannons' roster, as are a pair of former Shippensburg University players, spring graduates and Philadelphia native Tony Ellis and Jay Hardy.
Beckwith said, "I hope the community will come out and support us. We'd like to make Franklin County be our second home, and we'd like to play some more games here."
A former PIAA Class AA 100-meter dash champion for the Cadets, and a member of the PIAA champion football team in 1992, Beckwith is a Philadelphia native who has dabbled in several business ventures since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. He played some Arena League football, worked in social services and promotions, and was in the record industry.
What he's doing with the Cannons is balancing sports and entertainment.
"I was plugged into this league (ABA) because a friend of mine coached the West Virginia Wildcats and I had some ownership," Beckwith said. "But I wanted to have a team in Philly. We started in April and we'll play exhibitions until our season opens in late October."
The ABA is a far-flung league that stretches coast to coast, with 12 divisions and 109 teams. The Cannons' division is the Chesapeake, which also includes the Trenton Cagers, York Buccaneers, DMV Warriors, Baltimore Hawks, Prince George Valor, Reading Wizards, Salisbury (Md.) Bulldogs, Steel City Yellow Jackets and Atlantic City Aces.
Beckwith describes the ABA as "the next level down from the National Basketball Developmental League. I don't have the capacity to pay the players, but it's a stepping stone league."
He said his team will feature some young players looking to perhaps land a pro contract with an NBDL team, or some foreign team, some players maybe on the way down from those leagues, or simply some players who just want to play some ball.
"Talent-wise, there are a lot of good players in Philadelphia," Beckwith said. "A lot go to the Big Five schools, and if they aren't good enough for the NBA, but still want to play, we're there for them."
The Cannons hold several open tryouts, and Beckwith also has plenty of contacts in the Philly area.
"(Former Scotland player) Diallo Daniels knows everybody in the basketball scene down here, so he knows all the players," Beckwith said. "And the league funnels some guys to us when they let them know they're interested."
The ABA's regular season goes from late October to early March, and includes playoffs at the end.
If the Cannons become a successful franchise, Beckwith said he might be interested in starting a second team.
"I think there needs to be a second team in Central Pa.," he said. "There's nothing between Pittsburgh and Reading except for York. Another team would be good."
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