Official Name of the Group: Eastwick Commandoes
The Eastwick Commandoes are the 2008 National Drill Team Champions!
Here they perform as part of the 2007 Neighborhood2Neighborhood Festival Parade:
Eastwick drill team keeping youth in line
Tribune Staff Writer
Tonya Rose can’t stop youth violence. She can’t block every bullet that guns down Philadelphia’s own future or save the city from the bloodbath it appears to be drowning in. But she can instruct a drill team, and has done so since 1993. Redirecting energy that otherwise could have gone toward lengthening Philly’s youth crime list, Rose responded to her community’s cry for help by founding the Eastwick Commandoes.
“We were having meetings with community leaders and neighbors trying to find out what could we do,” Rose said. “At this meeting, they were talking about the teens and kids getting into a lot of deviant behavior.”
At the time, the middle-class Eastwick section of Philadelphia was caught off guard by an increase in drug-related gang activity, home break-ins and teenage prostitution.
“Young people were making the statement that there was nothing to do,” Rose said. “I stood up after the meeting saying if we want to keep the children off the streets, we need to offer activities they want to have. I said I’m willing to start a drill team.”
Still high from her own involvement with drill team as a teenager, Rose began putting up flyers seeking participants within a week of the meeting. About 70 youth responded almost immediately. Currently, the Eastwick Commandoes hold the title of 2008 national champions.
“Our main focus is commandoes, which means leadership; we’re in command,” Rose said. “In every way possible, we have tried to promote leadership and education through every experience. The key is having young people believe in themselves and build character in them.”
Although she remains the executive director, Rose stopped instructing the Eastwick Commandoes five years ago due to her bout with lupus.
“But I try to help out as much as a can,” she said.
Currently, 36 youth comprise the Commandoes, but as many as 78 have been involved at a time. Over the past 15 years, for which the Commandoes celebrated this past summer, over 600 children have been a part of the drill team. The team has performed for President Bill Clinton, former Philadelphia Major John Street and opened for the Kimmel Center.
“They really have a demand,” Rose said.
But as popular as the drill team may be, they do not receive the financial support they need. Rose said that many people look at drill teams as “a bunch of kids shaking their booty” and are therefore reluctant to make donations. Their only means of obtaining funds is through collecting donations from individuals on the streets.
“When you see those kids asking, they can raise $900 to $2,000 in 8 hours,” Rose said.
Much more than a dance troupe, the Eastwick Commandoes are talented, disciplined and committed.
“There are very few of my Commandoes that haven’t graduated from high school and headed to college,” Rose said. “Many of the members don’t want to leave. Some have said that if not for the Commandoes, they would not have made it.”