Many athletic ties bind rivals Pennsauken and Camden

There are connections between the athletic programs at Pennsauken and Camden high schools that reach back through the years in generations of players, coaches, and fans with ties to both the Indians and Panthers.

There are connections that stretch along streets such as River Road and Westfield Avenue as well as Route 130.

There also are connections at one kitchen table, where Pennsauken star running back Martin Booker Jr. breaks bread with his father, former Camden track and football standout Martin Booker.

"I'd like nothing better," Booker Jr. said, "than to beat his old school."

The connections between the schools and athletic programs should animate Saturday's football clash between visiting Pennsauken (3-2) and Camden (2-3) in Farnham Park.

The younger Booker leads Pennsauken with 567 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He knows the Indians can make a statement with a victory over the Panthers, who are ranked 16th in the Inquirer's Top 25.

"It would be a really big deal," he said. "A lot of the Camden players, they don't think a lot of us. We beat them, we'll have bragging rights."

Booker's development has been one of the keys to Pennsauken's improvement this season.

Last season, Pennsauken was 1-9.

"He's not just a track guy. He's tough," Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb said. "He had a run against Eastern where he took it inside, bounced off a couple guys, and it was like, 'I'm going to run through you, and then I'm going to run away from you.' "

Booker is coming off a strong performance in Pennsauken's 26-10 victory over Eastern: 12 carries, 180 yards, three touchdowns.

In a 41-16 win over Winslow Township in the season opener, Booker carried 23 times for 254 yards and scored three touchdowns.

He was limited by an ankle injury in the Indians' two losses, to undefeated Cherry Hill West and Camden Catholic. He carried the ball just 15 times in those games.

"Having him healthy, it makes a big difference," Tabb said.

Tabb is another example of the connections between the programs. He said his mother graduated from Camden High, and he spent some of his childhood living a "block away" from the field at Farnham Park.

"I played on that field every day," Tabb said. "That was the neighborhood playground."

Another connection: Camden junior Najyere Edwards, the team's leading rusher with 482 yards and four touchdowns, spent his freshman year at Pennsauken.

Martin Booker Sr. was a star hurdler and wide receiver at Camden in the early 1980s. He was a top hurdler at Villanova and spent three training camps with the Eagles in the late 1980s, twice spending the season on the injured-reserve list.

Martin Booker Jr. has established his own identity on the track. He was the Inquirer's South Jersey athlete of the year in the sport as a junior after leading Pennsauken to the first state title in the history of the program.

The younger Booker concedes that his athletic future likely will be in track and field. He has personal-best times of 10.77 seconds in the 100 meters and 21.72 in the 200 and has drawn recruiting interest from programs such as the University of Houston.

Booker knows this might be his last season as a football player.

That's one reason he was so excited to see Camden on Pennsauken's schedule this season. The teams last played in 2001.

"It was like a dream come true," Booker said. "I know a lot of their guys from church, from running track against them. I grew up competing against a lot of them."