by Sue Ann Rybak
It was the summer of 1962. The cost of an ice cream cone was just a dime, and Chubby Checkers’ “The Twist” was probably blaring on the radio, when a handful of young boys were attempting to play baseball on the fields at the Water Tower Recreation Center, 200 East Hartwell Lane in Chestnut Hill.
According to an article in the May 18, 1989, edition of the Chestnut Hill Local, Jim Dooley, who was an officer at the nearby VFW post at the time, recalled that “the older boys were chasing them off the fields, and were taking their balls and things.”
That’s when Bob Gould, a city recreation leader at the time, decided to ask a few fathers and other volunteers to help organize a four-team league. The Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants were the first four teams fielded by the Fathers’ Club, which later changed its name to the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club (CHYSC) in 2001.
The Dodgers won the league championship in 1962, thanks to 11-year-old pitcher/shortstop Tony Maletta, who would later become a Chestnut Hill fixture as the coach of the Dodgers and director of the Water Tower Recreation Center.
John McVay, the first president of the Fathers’ Club, also stated in the article that the reason the parents decided to form the four-team league was “to keep the kids off the corner and out of trouble, [while] giving them something constructive to do together and teaching them some baseball at the same time.”
Fast forward to today.
Last year, the club served 926 boys and 452 girls who played in a variety of sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse.
This year CHYSC will celebrate its 53rd Baseball Opening Day on Saturday, April 18, at 9 a.m. The Phillie Phanatic will be on hand to throw out the first pitch of the season and cheer on young athletes and spectators.
The league has grown from several dozen boys to several teams in all divisions – T-ball, Rookie, Minors and Majors. There are also four Junior travel teams – 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds – participating in the Montco Travel League. The Senior Travel Division begins its season later in the summer, so players ages 13 to 19 are encouraged to register now.
Dennis Primavera, president of CHYSC, said approximately 400 boys and girls are signed up to play this season.
He said that without the help and dedication of volunteers the club couldn’t function. The club, which operates all year round, spends roughly $15,000 a year just to maintain the Water Towers Baseball Fields. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s still the cost of renting sports facilities, paying referees, buying new uniforms and equipment.
While the club does generate some funds through registration fees, most of the club’s funding comes from sponsors and community organizations.
Although fathers formed the backbone of the organization in its early days, both women and men – many whom did not have any children – worked tirelessly together to raise funds, maintain the fields, and organize the club. But, It wasn’t until the late 70s that girls were playing on the field.
In 1978, Fathers’ Club president Eugene Caffrey spearheaded the push to give girls more options in club sports. By 1980, 20 girls were on the roster of the league teams, including Dorian McGill, who went on to become the first girl ever chosen to participate in the league’s annual All-Star game.
While no doubt children of all ages will learn the skills needed to play baseball and other sports this year, one of the most valuable lessons the young athletes learn is to work together as a team.
Primavera said the club provides an opportunity for young people to engage in healthy activities while bringing together kids from many different neighborhoods, cultures and economic backgrounds.
“Many of today’s youth are flooded with technology from televisions, computers, tablets and video games,” he said. “The club provides kids with a chance to get some exercise outside while making new friends.”