Northeast Times

They’ve been good sports for 50 years

A staple of the neigh­bor­hood, the Port Rich­mond Lep­re­chauns sports or­gan­iz­a­tion will cel­eb­rate its 50th an­niversary in the com­ing months.

For a group whose name­sake is syn­onym­ous with the stuff, the Port Rich­mond Lep­re­chauns def­in­itely have “a lot of luck” in pre­par­ing to cel­eb­rate the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s 50th an­niversary. 

At least, that’s what Tim Racek, pres­id­ent and base­ball dir­ect­or of the Lep­re­chauns Sport As­so­ci­ation in Port Rich­mond, at­trib­uted for the group’s longev­ity.

“It’s just a whole lot of luck,” he said re­cently. 

The Lep­re­chauns are pre­par­ing for the up­com­ing 50th an­niversary ce­re­mony – cur­rently set for Nov. 5 at Ed­ge­mont Cater­ers, 4411 Ed­ge­mont St. – and are hop­ing to track down alumni from the group’s long his­tory.

As the longest act­ive mem­ber of the group —17 years and count­ing — Racek said that over the years the or­gan­iz­a­tion has grown a lot from its humble be­gin­nings as a group of Port Rich­mond based fam­il­ies and their kids who wanted to play foot­ball. 

The group began in 1961 after a dis­cus­sion at the An­cient Or­der of Hi­ber­ni­ans Hall, which used to be at 2925 E. Thompson St., where loc­als de­bated bring­ing youth foot­ball back to the com­munity. The idea was to keep kids act­ive and pre­pare them for high school foot­ball pro­grams. 

“They star­ted it to keep kids act­ive and out of trouble, which is what we do now, really,” said Racek.

Those first years, the Lep­re­chauns were simply a foot­ball team for boys with a cheer­lead­ing pro­gram for girls. 

Over the years, the group has grown to of­fer bas­ket­ball, soft­ball, soc­cer, base­ball and even an all-wooden bat base­ball league. 

Racek said the group takes kids as young as 7 and 8 years old and provides a way for those who might not have the op­por­tun­ity oth­er­wise to play their fa­vor­ite sports out­side of a school en­vir­on­ment. 

Once the chil­dren reach high school age, they leave the Lep­re­chauns for their high school teams. Racek said this helps young­sters be­come more fa­mil­i­ar with sports and al­lows the com­pet­i­tion level to be friend­li­er and a little more fun. 

“We don’t ne­ces­sar­ily put a lot of em­phas­is on win­ning,” he said. 

In­stead, Paul Bonewicz, group treas­urer and dir­ect­or of the bas­ket­ball pro­gram, said the Lep­re­chauns fo­cus more on build­ing “found­a­tions” of ath­leti­cism in area youth.

“We try to start at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son to teach them about the found­a­tions of the sport and make them a bet­ter play­er by the end of the sea­son,” he said. 

Any­one can play for the group, re­gard­less of tal­ent or pri­or know­ledge of the sport, in­ter­jec­ted Racek.  

“We ac­cept every­body; we don’t turn any­body away,” he said. 

Lep­re­chaun mem­ber Cathy Dugan said that the real fo­cus of the or­gan­iz­a­tion is the ath­let­ic de­vel­op­ment of the chil­dren in­volved in the pro­gram. 

“We strive to put that de­sire in­to them so that they want to play,” she said, dis­cuss­ing how many alumni re­turn to coach or sup­port the Lep­re­chauns in oth­er ways years after they have out­grown the group. 

“It’s flat­ter­ing that they come back,” she said.

And, that’s the way it’s al­ways been ac­cord­ing to Joe Gor­don, a mem­ber of the first Lep­re­chaun foot­ball team, who re­turned to coach the team when he was just in high school.

After play­ing on the first team, Gor­don was asked to help coach in 1967, when he was in high school. 

Sur­pris­ingly, he was giv­en the title of head coach. 

“I was 17, and the kids I was coach­ing were 12,” re­called Gor­don. “I was scared my first game, be­lieve me.” 

Re­call­ing the past, Gor­don said that “be­fore they star­ted, there was noth­ing in this neigh­bor­hood,” for kids to do. And the or­gan­iz­a­tion was im­me­di­ately pop­u­lar. 

“In my first year, over 100 kids came out for the team, but I could only keep about 30,” he said. 

Over the years, this pop­ular­ity con­tin­ued, al­though mem­bers said that keep­ing the pro­gram go­ing in Port Rich­mond isn’t al­ways easy. 

Of­ten, they said, coaches and team of­fi­cials pay for many of the costs as­so­ci­ated with the sports or­gan­iz­a­tion out of pock­et, which Racek said can be costly, cit­ing the $3,000 the non-profit Lep­re­chauns group paid to re­paint the foot­ball teams’ hel­mets.

And, mem­bers said the Co­hock­sink field at Gaul and Ann Streets, where the Lep­re­chauns play, is of­ten rut­ted with stones, littered with trash and drug paraphernalia, and sul­lied by dog waste.

But the group works hard to keep it clean, green and safe for kids to play.

“That’s the battle around here,” said John Cep­par­ulo, Lep­re­chauns vice pres­id­ent. “We try to keep them (drug users) out and keep the good kids on that field.”

Yet there’s al­ways been a sense of pride for the Lep­re­chauns play­ers who grew up play­ing there.

“We tell the kids, if you can play on this field, you can play any­where,” Cep­par­ulo said.••

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com  

If You’re Go­ing: 

The Lep­re­chauns Sports As­so­ci­ation is seek­ing alumni for its up­com­ing Green and Gold Gala, cel­eb­rat­ing 50 great years of the Lep­re­chauns Sports As­so­ci­ation, to be held Sat­urday, Nov. 5 at Ed­ge­mont Cater­ers, 4411 Ed­ge­mont St.

Tick­ets will be avail­able after Septem­ber 10, $30 per per­son. 

Alumni in­ter­ested in par­ti­cip­at­ing can send their con­tact info to the Lep­re­chauns on Face­book at www.Face­book.com/Lep­re­chauns Sports As­so­ci­ation or by call­ing 215-423-6309.

This is a dress to im­press event and open to every­one over 21 years old. 

Also, alumni can meet or­gan­izers at the Lep­re­chauns ban­quet and a pic­nic will be held on Sat­urday, Au­gust 20, at Monkiewicz Play­ground Back­fields. Tick­ets are $5 per per­son (child or adult).

The Lep­re­chauns are also cur­rently ac­cept­ing re­gis­tra­tions for its 50th An­niversary Foot­ball and Cheer­lead­ing Sea­son. 

Foot­ball Play­ers: boys and girls ages five years old (must be five be­fore Ju­ly 1st 2011) – 14. Play­ers will be re­quired to have a state birth cer­ti­fic­ate for league re­gis­tra­tions. Cheer­lead­ers can be girls aged six to 14. 

Re­gis­tra­tion is be­ing held Monday to Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Club­house, 2973 Gaul St. 

Any ques­tions please call 215-423-6309 or ask on the group’s Face­book page. 

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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