Hunting Park Recreational Center stands in the middle of North Philadelphia. Being one of the lone buildings within the park’s borders, it demands to be noticed and to be regarded. Walking through its doors and talking to the people inside elevates that regard to an attitude of respect. The center gives the neighborhood’s people a place to gather and facilities to use. It sounds simple enough, but without it, many would be left with nowhere to go.
Kevin Cush, the recreational supervisor at the center, keeps the schedule moving and everyone happy. Kids come to him for basketballs, snacks or just for a laugh. His office that sits just above the gym has an open door. His phone never seems to stop ringing, but he goes through the actions with a smile.
He used to teach in Philadelphia, but left because he felt like he “became a prisoner of the classroom.” He looked into employment with Philadelphia’s Department of Recreation because he still wanted interaction with kids and liked the idea of a more mobile job and diverse responsibilities. “I like that the recreational center provides a safe environment for the kids. They need somebody to look out for them,” said Cush.
He went on to explain the various activities and groups accommodated by the center. In the winter, the gym sees the most activity with daily basketball games, practices or open gyms.
Two young friends, Desiree Wilson and Danasia Griffin, come to the center every day after school to use the gym. “We like to watch the boys play ball and during their breaks, they sometimes let us shoot buckets. We got no one to play with at home, but there are always kids here,” said Griffin. “My favorite part about coming to the rec center is the treats they give us. It’s way warmer than anywhere else in the winter, too,” said Wilson.
Also, the Dynasty Spirit Elite cheerleading squad practices once a week at the center. Coach Ronnie Spruill said: “We could not have started this cheerleading organization if the rec center wouldn’t have agreed to let us practice here for free. We are grateful that they share their home with us.”
Most Saturdays in the winter, the gym is booked for a triple-header basketball game. Parents line the court and coach their kids through the game. Tyketa Williams gives instructions to her 6-year-old son, Jowan, and he looks to her every time he is confused on the court. “He’ll get it. We’ve been coming here for more than 10 years for all the sports. We got kids in cheerleading, football, and basketball. It’s closer and more organized than other centers in the city,” said Williams.
In the warmer months, the swimming pool right next to the gym opens up to the public. Also, the center runs a six-week day camp that gives kids two meals a day and the chance to interact in a positive way with other kids in the community. Other summer activities include baseball, cheerleading and an outdoor chess league for seniors. Cush said, “The sports teams and willing volunteers are what really keep this place going.”
A significant number of the teams that use the center facilities to practice belong to the North Philadelphia Aztecs, a youth sports organization that was started in 1993 by men that grew up in the park. One of the founders is Leroy Fisher, a man with an obvious passion for the park and a stronger passion for sports. “This rec center is a beacon of hope…it stands in the middle of the park and shows the community that there are positive things happening in our neighborhood that we should be proud of,” said Fisher.
Fisher is also the president of Hunting Park United, a group which describes themselves as “an association of friends, neighbors and organizations dedicated to making Hunting Park the best and most welcoming park it can be,” according to its Web site. Hunting Park United meets the second Saturday of each month to catch up on community news, discuss potential plans and events for the park, and to listen to one another. They are not the only group that uses the recreational center to meet. There is a young girl’s modeling class that also meets on Saturdays, a Gamblers Anonymous group and many informational sessions, such as CPR class, that are open for anyone to attend.
Fisher has been coming to the park and to the recreational center as long as he can remember and is invested in making everyone else see the glory that he sees in Hunting Park. “This place gets a lot of bad publicity, but there are so many good things going on here,” said Fisher. He pointed to the table where 15 community leaders just sat for a two-hour meeting and continued, “They would not come if changes and improvements weren’t always happening.”