Gina Maletta-Sannicandro (standing) assists Jenks Academy for the Arts and Science students, who attend the Water Tower Recreation Center's Afterschool program, with their homework. Maletta-Sannicandro, of Roxborough, formerly of Chestnut Hill, attended the program as a child. From left: Eli Zickler, Jordyn Jones-Branham, Liyah Camacho, Mikayla Childs, and Katie Barnes. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Gina Maletta-Sannicandro (standing) assists Jenks Academy for the Arts and Science students, who attend the Water Tower Recreation Center’s Afterschool program, with their homework. Maletta-Sannicandro, of Roxborough, formerly of Chestnut Hill, attended the program as a child. From left: Eli Zickler, Jordyn Jones-Branham, Liyah Camacho, Mikayla Childs, and Katie Barnes. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

The first in a series of articles about the Water Tower Recreation Center

For many Hillers the Water Tower Recreation Center, 200 E. Hartwell Lane in Chestnut Hill, has been central to the heart of the community. For almost 100 years, children have gathered to play sports, learn how to dance, perform in a play and learn the value of community.

But for many Chestnut Hill families, the Water Tower is more than just a place to gather and play sports: It’s a tradition.

And thanks to the dedication and commitment of families like the Maletta family, it will continue to be a place where community members go to have fun, exercise, learn, and socialize.

Gina Maletta-Sannicandro, director of the Water Tower’s after-school, summer camp and Biddy Basketball programs, said she doesn’t ever see herself leaving.

“I grew up here,” she said. “My father Tony Maletta worked here for over 35 years.”

Maletta-Sannicandro, 38, said her father lived less than a block away from the Water Tower.

Tony played baseball for the Chestnut Hill Father’s Club, pitching for the Dodgers during the Father’s Club’s inaugural season in 1962. He also pitched in the first-all-star game against Wyndmoor and threw a shutout.

Maletta began his recreation career in 1972 and held various temporary positions at the Water Tower until 1975, when he was hired full-time.

Throughout his career he coached various teams including those in the Father’s Club Friday night basketball league. But he is probably best known for coaching the Little League Dodgers for 22 years. During that time, he led them to 18 championships and an unprecedented 40-game unbeaten streak.

“The most important thing to my dad was the relationships that he developed with the kids he coached,” Maletta-Sannicandro said. “He was a father figure to a lot of kids and youth in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy. That was something that meant a lot to me as a kid growing up. Every kid who walked in the door knew my dad. He connected with people on a very personal level. Kids would stop by my dad’s office just to chat with him.”

She recalled how her mother would put her or her siblings in a stroller and walk over to the Water Tower so they could watch their father coach baseball games. As a kid, Maletta-Sannicandro attended the after-school program and summer camp.

“When I got old enough I started helping out with the gymnastics class,” she said.

Now Maletta-Sannicandro’s six children attend the summer camp and after-school program.

“Coaching was a big part of my father’s life,” she said. “He coached my sisters and me in basketball. But it was hard at times because you were going home with the coach. But there was nothing I would rather do than play basketball.”

Maletta-Sannicandro said one of the things her father taught her was to have a strong work ethic.

“I learned how to make a foul shot by not going home until I made one at the Water Tower,” she said.

Now Maletta-Sannicandro teaches her son Anthony how to make a foul shot at the Water Tower. Besides teaching young people the fundamentals of basketball, as her father did, she teaches children the importance of “playing with the heart in sports and in life.”

For Maletta-Sannicandro and her family, the Water Tower will always be the heart of the community.

“It’s more than a building – it’s home,” she said.

For more information about programs available at the Water Tower Recreation Center call 215-685-9296 or go to facebook.com/watertowerphila.

— To be continued

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