By Phil Anastasia
When Kahleil Chisolm carries the football, he breaks tackles and new ground.
The Audubon senior running back didn't set out to be a trail blazer, to establish a precedent in South Jersey sports, to become one of the first athletes to take advantage of a seismic change in the state's educational system.
But it's kind of worked out that way.
"I bleed green now," Chisolm said with a smile the other day after a scrimmage against Highland.
The 5-9, 175-pound Chisolm is one of the toughest ball-carriers in South Jersey. He's gained more than 1,000 yards in the last two seasons with a running style that is equal parts speed, elusiveness and tenacity.
He's done it all as a school choice student.
"It's changed my life tremendously," Chisolm said of his ability to attend Audubon as a school choice student while maintaining his residence in Camden.
The interdistrict school choice program was signed into law in New Jersey in 2010, after operating as a pilot program in a small group of districts for several years.
State officials expect that more than 6,000 students, in grades kindergarden through 12, will attend schools outside their home district through the program during this school year. That's almost double the number from last year.
And the program is expected to continue to grow, as more and more schools add the program and more and more parents become aware of the option.
More than two dozen South Jersey high schools are choice schools. Delsea Regional, a 10-time sectional champion in football, added the program this year.
School choice has yet to make a major impact in the sports arena but many school officials believe that is just a matter of time, especially since many of the first students to use the program were ninth and 10th graders who are just starting to compete at the varsity level.
Chisolm was an exception to the rule. He gained 177 yards in his first game for Audubon as a sophomore against Lindenwold in September of 2011.
Chisolm, who attended St. Cecilia's grammar school in Pennsauken and Camden Catholic as a freshman, said the school-choice program has been a major influence on his life.
"I live in Camden so I probably would be going to Camden High or Woodrow Wilson," Chisolm said. "I don't think I would have done well in those schools. That was not for me.
"I love it here at Audubon. I'm so lucky to have the opportunity to go to school here."
It's not like Chisolm has turned Audubon into a Group 1 power. The Green Wave was 4-6 in 2011 and 4-6 again last season, making the South Jersey Group 1 playoffs but losing to eventual champion Penns Grove by a 64-0 score.
But he's made an impact as durable, dependable running back and hard-hitting defender.
"He's a tough kid who does whatever you ask of him," Audubon coach Dom Koehl said. "He's a great kid."
Chisolm is one of the few veterans on an Audubon team that could struggle this season with a lot of inexperience along the front lines.
He said he's determined to serve as a leader for the Green Wave.
"I can't show frustration," Chisolm said. "I'm a team captain. I'm all about the Audubon Green Wave. I have to try to stay positive and keep the team as positive as I can."
Said Koehl: "Kahleil knows we have a daunting task in front of us this season. But he's continue to work hard and set an example."
Chisolm, who has drawn recruiting interest from Assumption College, a Division II program in Worcester, Mass., hopes to raise his career rushing total above 3,000 yards this season and maybe lead the Green Wave to a few upset victories.
He said he didn't set out to become one of the first athletes in South Jersey to make a major impact as a school choice student.
He said he just wanted to find a different place to further his education.
"I have really enjoyed being able to come to Audubon," Chisolm said. "It's the first time in my life I can honestly say I love school."
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