The plight of the beleaguered Lebanon High football program is a complex problem, one that includes elements of socio-economic, cultural, and structural struggles.

It is a problem that is bigger than one man – one coach – can handle, something that must be addressed from multiple angles, from the school board all the way down to the levels of youth involvement.

It is also an issue that will demand time, coordination, and persistence to resolve.

But while the Cedars’ dilemma is unique to Lebanon, it is not unique. Other central Pennsylvania urban school districts have encountered many of the same difficulties that are currently facing Lebanon.

And if indeed the longest journey begins with an initial step, Lebanon can take direction – and perhaps just a bit of solace – from neighboring urban areas like Lancaster and Reading.

“We haven’t won in 33 games, it’s not a good thing,” said former Lebanon head coach Frank Isenberg. “When you work in an urban school district there are challenges that sometimes people don’t always see. There was definitely some disconnect. We have to be able to control what we can control. I just couldn’t get the job done.”

Frank Isenberg headed the Lebanon football program for four difficult seasons. (Jeff Falk)

“The simple answer to a complex question is yes,” said McCaskey head coach Ben Thompson, when asked if student-athletes from suburban schools have more resources at their disposal as a whole, compared to urban student-athletes.

“They’re dealing with less issues than kids in urban settings. Not all athletic programs are funded the same. Go to Lebanon, and look at their weight room, look at their school, look at their stadium. Then go to Cedar Crest, and look at their weight room, look at their school, look at their stadium. It’s night and day. It’s the same way here.”

In early November, 10 days after Lebanon completed its third straight winless campaign, Isenberg resigned as the Cedars’ head coach. Lebanon’s search for Isenberg’s successor is fully engaged, and the Cedars may have already identified a number of potential candidates for the opening.

The Lebanon football team takes a break for water during an early-season game this year. (Jeff Falk)

“That’s such a complex question,” said Isenberg, when asked what needs to be done to get the Lebanon program headed in the right direction. “There’s a lot of things that need to change. A clear plan of how things need to be has to be in place, and then that blueprint has to be followed moving forward. You’ve got to take things piece by piece. I think a lot of things are going to need to be changed at Lebanon outside the football program. We have to be creative to grow.

“I firmly believe the administration cares about the football program,” he added. “I’m just not sure they supported me, just by the lack of communication at the very end. I think they want to go in a different direction.”

The Cedar offense looks to the sideline for the next play to be called, during action in a game earlier this fall. (Jeff Falk)

“I can’t speak on the problems Lebanon has,” said Reading High head coach Troy Godinet. “I know we have some of the same challenges. But every school district has its own unique challenges. You just have to chip away at it little by little.”

Lebanon’s losing skein currently stands at 33 games, a streak that dates back to the 2020 campaign. But just as disheartening has been how the Cedars have lost.

This season, the Cedars were outscored by their opponents by a combined total of 484-64, or an average of 48-6 each game. All but one of Lebanon’s 10 contests this season was shortened by the mercy rule.

Assistant coach Jason Capello (left) offers words of advice to senior Josiah Wright during a game this season. (Jeff Falk)

Lebanon began this year’s season with 45 players and finished it with a number in the low 30s.

“Winning is important, especially for these kids,” said Isenberg, a health and physical education teacher in the Lebanon School District. “You’re here to win. It’s what drives you. I’m a competitive person. Of course, you have the life lessons, but there is pressure from the outside to have some growth and improvement.

Sophomore Malachi Briddell was a bright spot for the Cedars during the 2023 campaign. (Jeff Falk)

“It definitely takes a toll on you,” he continued. “We’re in a physical sport. You have to beat the person across from you. I think my voice got stale because there was no growth.”

“Every time you step on to the field you’ve got to believe you can win,” said Thompson. “Lebanon shouldn’t be in Section Two (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League). Lebanon should be in Section Four based on how many kids they put on the field. If not, they’re going to continue to struggle, and no one is going to want to play. You also need the support of the alumni, you need the support of the teachers, you need the support of the administration.”

Some of the biggest challenges currently facing Lebanon include an inadequate weight training program, the absence of a strong football booster club, a lack of parental involvement, a disconnect between the high school program and the Lebanon Raiders and Friendship Cedars youth programs, low participation numbers, players helping out at home with household budgets and sibling rearing, an inability to compete in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, and a general lack of pride in the program.

“I’m the booster club. We have parents who want to get involved, who want to help, but they’re limited by school policy,” said Isenberg. “We’ve had a lot of kids who’ve had to go home after school to take care of siblings and some have had to go to work. That’s a challenge in a lot of urban places. You have to have some empathy because you don’t know what’s going on at home. That puts a lot of pressure on your discipline policies, which you need to compete.”

The inside of an empty Lebanon Alumni Stadium on a late fall afternoon. (Jeff Falk)

“Lebanon does not have a weight program,” Isenberg added. “My request to have athletes in the weight room during the school day went unheard. That’s where we struggle as a whole. Other schools we compete against do it to develop their players.”

“We do have a lot of single-parent families where kids have to take on the roll of the man in the family,” said Godinet. “We try to do a lot of morning things because it allows kids to work. We have more guys on staff working in the building and I think that helps. Kids have to be in the weight room, and as far as buying in, we have kids who played in our youth programs. At Reading, we’ve had problems with kids staying in the city and moving outside of it.”

For now, Isenberg, who assumed the reigns of the program four years ago, is putting his coaching career on hold. While he has not ruled out coaching in the future, his next situation will almost undoubtedly be different than his last.

“I think I need to take some time,” said Isenberg, a 40-year-old resident of the city. “The last two years have been long. I take it personally and I genuinely care about the kids.”

“I’ve always wanted this job,” he added. “I’m an urban kid myself. I know what goes on and I think I have a lot of empathy. My goal was to create a pride for the football program at Lebanon, from the youth level up.”

“All urban schools have the same issues with suburban schools,” said Thompson. “We have issues with kids going to Lancaster Catholic, Manheim Township, Hempfield, Lampeter-Strasburg, Conestoga Valley. They’re actually moving out of the city. Kids and families are worried about exposure over playing time. It’s always been something, but it’s more now than in the past because of social media and recruitment. It’s not unique to Lebanon. I understand the struggle.”

“I don’t think everybody truly understands unless you’re living that life or you’ve been in that situation,” said Godinet. “I don’t think a lot of times people really understand what we deal with. There’s got to be so many wins within our program or you’re not going to see people on Friday night.”

Lebanon Cedars

Read all our coverage of the Cedars here.


Head Coach: Frank Isenberg

Assistant Coaches: Greg Herr, Tyler Roth, Jason Capello, Nathan Myers

Jersey NumberNamePositionGrade
2Derek InfanteWR/DBSenior
4Riquelme EstevezWR/DBSenior
5Jack HerrWR/LBSenior
6Derrick BriddellWR/DBSenior
7Tayvian RiveraWR/DBSenior
8Malachi BriddellWR/DBSophomore
9Aidan FernandezTE/LBSenior
10Brandyn CastroQBJunior
11Braylon BeaverWR/DBSenior
12Jahkeim MedlockRB/DBSenior
13Benjamin FenstermakerWR/DBSenior
14Jeavon CortesWR/LBSenior
15Paul TraceWR/DBSenior
16Josiah WrightTE/DLSenior
17Kareem StonerQB/DBJunior
18Juan RiveraWR/DBSophomore
19Jovani Rivera-GonzalezWR/DBSophomore
20Kai RiveraRB/LBJunior
21Sebastian PolancoRB/LBSophomore
22Camron BuchmoyerRB/LBSophomore
24Anthony KlishWR/DBSophomore
25Nathan BorderRB/LBSenior
26Jesucristo Echevarria FigueroaWR/LBJunior
27Jamil GordonWR/DBSophomore
30Messiah WilsonTE/LBJunior
32Josean WrightWR/LBFreshman
33Issac CortesWR/LBJunior
34Reinaldo RiveraRB/LBJunior
50Colin DaughertyKSenior
52Omar Aguilar-OrtizOL/DLJunior
54Ethan RiveraOL/DLSophomore
60Dujhan BaezOL/DLJunior
62Daniel HersheyOL/DLSophomore
64Derryck BrickleOL/DLSophomore
65Mahkye CortesOL/DLSenior
65Colin JohnsenOL/DLSenior
70Elis Bentez JimenezOL/DLSophomore
72Cayden ClentimackOL/DLJunior
75Cameron HarbaughOL/DLSophomore
76Omar MileteOL/DLJunior
78Corbett BrickleOL/DLSenior
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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of, sports director at WLBR...