Recreation centers throughout the City of Philadelphia faced a grim fate last week, when the Philadelphia School District announced it would be closing their buildings on weekends and one hour earlier during the week.
Luckily, their devastation was short lived.
On Feb. 9, Mayor Michael Nutter announced an agreement with the School District to preserve winter sports and activities, allowing youth athletes the opportunity to finish their season.
The city will consolidate 83 school buildings into 48 locations for recreation programming and also agreed to pay $175,000 so the programs can continue to thrive. The 48 locations will remain open until 9 p.m. during the week as well as Saturdays through March 17.
The additional time will allow more than 12,000 youth athletes to finish their seasons — which just last week, were in jeopardy of being cancelled.
“That would have had a major affect, because of how many teams we have and the programs that play at those schools on nights and weekends,” said Torresdale Boys Club president Jim Hasher. “Last week alone, we had 30 games at Northeast High School, 30 at (George) Washington and 40 at (Abraham) Lincoln. The effect it would have had on the Boys Club to relocate these teams would have been astronomical.”
The School District’s original plans to close school buildings at 8 p.m. on weekdays and completely on weekends — effective almost immediately — was projected to save $2.8 million in staff and overtime costs. That estimate was later downgraded to $1.6 million.
However, now that the limited hours won’t go into effect until March 17 — allowing winter seasons to be completed — the District is expected to save approximately $1.2 million. The School District must close a $61 million budget gap by June.
“Everyone pays taxes, so we’re paying to support these schools,” explained Penn Academy Athletic Association basketball director Bob Hoffman. “If they closed the buildings, we would have to pay to rent a gym so these leagues can continue to run. It puts a burden on everyone.”
Hoffman has been Penn Academy’s basketball director for 13 years, implementing the summer league, travel ball and an AAU league during that time. Established in 1960, Penn Academy now has more than 1,000 kids involved in its various programs.
The winter basketball program includes two girl’s teams and five boys teams, who compete in four different leagues — Northeast Peanut League, Department of Recreation, Northeast Suburban Athletic Conference (NESAC) and the Lincoln League.
“We have a lot of kids playing right now, and that’s just within one organization,” said Hoffman. “Clubs will start folding and that’s what will really hurt the kids.”
Recreation centers throughout Philadelphia will have to endure these inevitable cuts on March 17, but the early closures will not be nearly as limiting for spring sports like baseball and softball.
“The beauty of that is it is outside. As long as the fields are maintained and permits are given out, we’ll be fine,” said Hasher, who has spent the past 18 years with Torresdale Boys Club. “We did have a big scare with basketball. People were walking around scratching their heads. There was no forewarning. We were shocked.
“Will it be a problem next year? Absolutely. It’ll be a tragedy. It’ll be a huge problem,” he added. “We run seven days a week, so any kind of cut would hurt us tremendously. Our baseball program alone has over 500 children.”
More than 12,000 children will now be able to complete their winter seasons, giving parents and coaches throughout Philadelphia a sigh of relief.
“When you look at the violence in this city, especially with kids, and to just close all this down and turn them onto the streets… that’s just ridiculous,” said Mayfair Monarch’s sport director Dave Bauman. “I’m broke. You’re broke. The City’s broke. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. It doesn’t matter what these kids are doing, as long as it’s productive and keeps that out of trouble. That’s the most important thing.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at email@example.com
Extended hours throughout Northeast Philadelphia:
School Saturday Hours of Operation
C.C.A. Baldi Middle School 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Watson Comly School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stephen Decatur School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hamilton Disston School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Henry Edmunds School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Louis H. Farrell School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Samuel Fels High School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
FitzPatrick School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fox Chase Elementary School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Anne Frank Elementary School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Frankford High School 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
John Hancock School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thomas Holme School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
General Harry LaBrum Middle School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Abraham Lincoln High School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
William Loesche Elementary School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mayfair School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Austin Meehan Middle School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Northeast High School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Robert Pollock Elementary School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Rhawnhurst Elementary School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Solis-Cohen Solomon School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
James Sullivan School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
George Washington High School 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.