Meet the Philadelphia Union’s Youngest Hometown Player

Medford’s Brenden Aaronson Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Most of Brenden Aaronson’s best buddies in Medford are finishing up their last days of senior year and getting ready for college in the fall. Aaronson is on a different path.

Aaronson started playing this spring with the Philadelphia Union, one of 24 Major League Soccer teams. The 18-year-old midfielder is the youngest homegrown player the Union has signed.

“From the time I was eight years old, I wanted to be a professional soccer player,” says Aaronson.

Growing up, Aaronson also played lacrosse and basketball, but soccer was different. He even loved practice. “There just was nothing like it,” he recalls.

Aaronson’s father, Rusty, who played soccer at Monmouth University, recognized Brenden’s skills early and started Real New Jersey, an all-star club team, to help develop his son’s skills. Aaronson spent a year at Shawnee High School before being selected for the Philadelphia Union Youth Academy, a program for elite players.

“We practice from 8:30 to 10:30, then go to classes until 3:30,” says Aaronson, who finished his coursework at the academy last fall.

Despite his commitment to his sport, Aaronson says he’s still the same Brenden. “My friends will tell you I am the same kid who has played all sports with them since we were little kids.”

Aaronson was recruited by Indiana University, but when the Union offered a contract, he couldn’t refuse.

“When a dream comes true,” he says, “you have to go with it.”

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“City of Champions” Honors Garfield Football Star Benny Babula

Courtesy of Freedom 365

When Hank Gola was growing up in Garfield, there was no greater legend than Benny Babula.

Babula owned a meat-distribution business in the Bergen County city. “We kids would go over to the place and marvel at how he would throw a big side of beef over his shoulders,” says Gola, a former sportswriter for the New York Post and New York Daily News.

But Babula’s legend was based on more than beef. In his high school days, Babula was the best football player in Garfield history. On one incredible Christmas day in 1939, he led Garfield High School to a 16-13 victory over Miami High at the Orange Bowl, in what was acknowledged as a national-championship game. Babula, at tailback, ran 25 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, completed 6 of 10 passes, and kicked the winning field goal.

What started as a feature for the Daily News became Gola’s passion, and ultimately a book, City of Champions (Tatra Press, 2018), which exhaustively details Babula’s heroics and Garfield’s memorable season. 

“It was a tale sent down from father to son,” says Gola, who lives in Parsippany/Troy Hills.

Gola’s book captures the struggles of Depression-era Garfield, a blue-collar hive of Italian and Polish immigrants and their families, and tracks the wartime and postwar lives of their 1939 football heroes.

“I just wanted to leave a gift to my town,” says the author.

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