Water Tower basketball for children with autism

by Len Lear
Posted 6/15/23

In honor of his nephew with autism, the recreation center's supervisor is hosting an event for kids with special needs.

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Water Tower basketball for children with autism


Charles A. Christman III, the new supervisor at the Water Tower Recreation Center since Sept. 11 of last year, is a man with a big heart. In honor of his 9-year-old nephew, David, who has autism, Christman decided to have a special event at the Water Tower on Saturday, June 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for children with special needs who want to learn the fundamentals of basketball.

"David inspired me to do this," Christman told us last week. "If it's successful, we will have a 10-week program in the fall. As far as I know, this is the first time the Water Tower is hosting a basketball skills and drills program specifically for kids with intellectual disabilities and those who are neurodivergent. David recently started playing basketball. After playing soccer for a few years, he has been watching his older sister, Aubrey, play basketball, and is now very into it too."

According to Christman, the three most popular Water Tower programs are afterschool, summer camp and gymnastics and tumbling. "For Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club (CHYSC)," he said, "basketball, baseball, flag football and soccer are all very popular. CHYSC is a wonderful group to work with. They have been here for decades and have been very open, helpful, polite and professional."

Christman grew up in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia. He and his friends spent a lot of time as kids hanging out at Russo Park across the street from St. Hubert Catholic High School. He and his wife now live in Roxborough.

Christman has been with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation for 15 years and has worked at recreation centers around the city, most recently in South Philadelphia as the supervisor at Chew Playground and Guerin Recreation Center. Before that, he was the supervisor at Max Myers Playground for eight years, where he oversaw one of the largest pools in the city. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in film and media arts in 2005 and is also an independent filmmaker who is currently working on his eighth short film with his production company, Back2Ninety9Productions.

"The Water Tower Recreation Center is really a great place to work, with a wonderful staff and community," he said. "I can truly say I enjoy coming to work every day. I originally began working with Parks and Recreation because I enjoy working with kids. I also enjoy playing sports and having the opportunity to introduce kids to new and valuable skills that they can use when they move on to future endeavors. That is extremely rewarding. I also enjoy sharing my passion for film. I’ve started film clubs at other recreation centers, and I hope to bring another one here to Water Tower in the fall."

For those who are not aware of its history, the Water Tower Recreation Center was built in 1910 on a former reservoir site at 209 E. Hartwell Lane in Chestnut Hill and was redeveloped as a public playground.

It was built in memory of Henry M. Houston Woodward, the oldest son of Dr. George and Mrs. Gertrude Houston Woodward, who was killed in the line of duty during World War I. The facility’s name refers to a 125-foot-tall mortared stone standpipe built in 1859 that remains on the western end of the property, once part of the city-owned Chestnut Hill Water Company’s reservoir complex.

The Woodwards ensured the plot’s future role as a recreation site through an earlier donation of property at 22nd and Huntington Streets to the city as a public playground (now Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center). The bequest was contingent on the city’s agreement to redevelop the six-acre reservoir site as a public playground and to operate and maintain the site in perpetuity. In 1910, the city agreed to these conditions, and the Woodwards financed the redevelopment of the site.

The Water Tower Recreation Center was completed in 1921 on the site of the reservoir’s former pumping station. A $10,000 gift from the Woodwards in 1929 partially financed the $60,000 construction of two symmetrical, single-story, seven-bay wing additions to the recreation center.

By the mid-1900s, the site had expanded with the addition of two parcels enclosed by East Hartwell Lane, Winston Road and Ardleigh Street, totaling two acres. This section of the property now houses six tennis courts. The modern facility also includes a batting cage, a hockey rink, one general playing field, two ball fields and three basketball courts.

For more information, visit wtrec.org. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com