Below are details for National Night Out, America’s night out against crime. Events are taking place in different locations around Pottstown. I’ll be at Washington/Chestnut Street Park with my sister, Michele Dunleavy, the girls’ varsity basketball coach at Phoenixville. We’ll be running some passing and dribbling games with the younger kids. There are lots of activities planned to bring the community together around crime prevention.
We have just one more pocket park to visit, and that is Potts Drive Park in the western part of the Borough. After that, we will finish our whirlwind tour of Pottstown’s parks with Memorial Park.
To get to Potts Drive Park, you would go west on King Street, cross Route 100, turn right at Gable Avenue, left onto W. Chestnut Street and then go right onto Potts Drive. The park is at the very end of Potts Drive. As I drove up, at first glance it appeared that the park was fenced and locked up, but then I saw an opening, which is to the left of the main gate.
Apparently, there had been some trouble recently with “turfing,” the practice of driving a vehicle fast on grass and messing it all up. There is a small parking area at the entrance to Potts Drive Park, but it is no longer accessible in order to keep vehicles out of the park.
Once inside the park, it’s got a decent basketball court, grassy areas for picnics or running around, and nice play equipment. Although this is the last pocket park I’m writing about, it was the first one I visited with my camera, and it’s got a fast slide and a purple dino that is sure to make anyone’s day a little brighter.
Heading east on King Street, back toward downtown, will bring you to Memorial Park, the crown jewel of the Pottstown park system. The Penn State researchers classify it as a regional and “well-rounded large park.”
You’ll recall that well-rounded means that a park provides a full-range of opportunities for:
• physical activity
• social connections
• contact with nature
• connecting with history, culture, sense of place
Memorial Park offers all those in abundance. On two recent visits to the park, on foot as well as on a bike from Bike Pottstown and Tri-County Bicycles, I ended up spending hours re-discovering a park that has changed so much since I last lived in Pottstown in the 1980s.
I also spent most of the day there for the July 4th festivities, when it was filled with activities, such as a classic car show, hot-air balloon lift-offs, rides and games of chance, all being enjoyed by thousands, whose numbers increased in anticipation of the evening’s fireworks. It’s hard to do justice to what this landscape provides for residents and visitors throughout the year. I will just try to highlight some of the many facilities and possibilities for a wide range of age and interest groups.
Very young children will love the Fountain of Youth Spray Park and adjacent playground, which are near the Manatawny Street entrance. Stroller-bound children (and their parents) will enjoy all the paved paths throughout the park, while older children in the Pottstown Little League make use of the ball fields.
Moving deeper into the park, beyond the baseball fields, those old enough to remember Gruber Pool will now find the Trilogy Park BMX in its place. Trilogy supports local riders and competes in and hosts National Bicycle League-sanctioned competitions. For more information about their programs, visit their website.
Dog lovers will want to wander behind Trilogy Park BMX and check out the Bark Park, built with support from Home Depot, Exelon, PECO, National Penn Bank and the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2008. Residents can contact the Parks and Recreation Department regarding membership. The facility is gated and users need a key to enter.
Going back toward the BMX course and then veering left and crossing over a bridge, the path will lead you to some open fields on your right and left. To your right, you will see a bandstand and beyond that the beautifully landscaped Veterans Walk of Honor. My photos did not come out, but I’ll take more and then add them to the photo gallery. In the meantime, there are some beautiful photos posted by the Joint Veterans Council at their website. Going back to the path (after coming over the footbridge), on your left, you can pay your respects at the World War II Memorial.
Nearby, families, sports teams, community groups and church groups may want to consider renting out the pavilion. It’s got electricity and offers plenty of picnic tables, wide open spaces around it, and the playground close by for special events. On one of my visits, I got to talking to a family that rents the pavilion every year for a child’s birthday party, and they were nice enough to invite me. I have to note that whenever I asked if I could take a picture, people were very friendly!
In addition to the July 4th Celebration, which is the area’s largest, Memorial Park plays host to another annual event that attracts thousands of visitors. Serious volleyball players converge on Pottstown on Memorial Day weekend for what is certainly one of the best volleyball tournaments on the east coast. The website for the 19th Annual Rumble bills itself as “The toughest grass tournament in the Nation!!!” Here is The Mercury’s coverage of the 2010 Rumble and some other great photos.
Finally, let’s not forget the Manatawny Creek itself,which defines the edge of the park along Manatawny Street near King Street, and then winds away, offering numerous chances to re-connect with nature. On a warm, sunny September day, I saw families venturing around the water’s edge, kids jumping in, and a group of young teens crowding around a fisherman, who let them all have a chance to catch something.
Memorial Park and the surrounding western gateway area leading into Pottstown have enjoyed the support of the Montgomery County Planning Commission’s Open Space Grant Program. Projects in Pottstown have included the Memorial Park ballfield conversion, the Fountain of Youth Spray Park and the nearby Manatawny Gateway Project, commonly known as The Carousel. The Pottstown area is fortunate indeed to have the continued public and private investment in the planning and evolution of this invaluable resource.
POTTS DRIVE PARK Location: At the end of Potts Drive, Pottstown, PA 19464. Although it is behind WalMart, it can only be accessed via Potts Drive; there is no through street to Shoemaker Rd. Size: 0.5 acres Suitability: Playground will appeal to 5-12 year olds. Basketball court will appeal to older children, teens & adults. Facilities: Playground, multi-purpose open space, benches, shade trees, full-court basketball. Activities + tips: There is no access to the parking area. Entrance is accessible for pedestrians, wheelchairs & bicycles. Hours: Dawn until dusk.
MEMORIAL PARK, also known as MANATAWNY PARK Location: This 78-acre park can be accessed from Manatawny Street near W. Second Street, as well as on King Street between Manatawny Street and Shoemaker Road. Parking: From King Street, parking is available in 2 lots near the baseball fields and near the Trilogy Park/BMX course. Some parking is also available near the Manatawny Street entrance (near the spray park.) Size: 78 acres Suitability: All ages. Facilities: Three baseball fields, soccer field, many multi-purpose open space areas, benches, shade trees, full-court basketball, playground, spray park (in season), Trilogy Park/BMX course, Bark Park (for dogs), picnic areas, pavilion (with electric), bandstand, World War II Memorial, gazebo and Veterans Walk of Honor and, of course, Manatawny Creek. Activities + tips: This park offers active and passive recreation for all ages. Paved paths throughout the park will appeal to bikers, walkers, joggers and the stroller crowd. If fishing, please observe all PA gaming/fishing laws. Keep an eye out for large-scale community & recreational events held in Memorial Park. For something a little out-of-the ordinary, check out the Trilogy Park BMX where Gruber Pool used to be. Hours: Dawn until dusk, except for some special events.
Heading into the North End, I was very curious to see my old stomping grounds, at least at Brookside Park and Terrace Lane. When I was growing up – um – several decades ago, the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department ran programs out of all the parks and elementary schools. My home base was Franklin School. That’s where I learned how to weave potholders and tie-dye t-shirts, and every day kids of all ages swarmed the playground. One of the most exciting events of every summer – and these were very rare – was when one of the school’s maintenance men worked on the roof and started throwing down all the balls that had been hit, kicked or thrown up there over the past year. Baseballs, rubber balls, kick balls, tennis balls, even Frisbees, came raining down like manna from heaven. For sports lovers, it was truly a miracle.
Excitement also came from kickball games against other nearby playgrounds, including Brookside and Terrace Lane. I remember walking to each of those parks for some spirited competition, although I don’t remember any of the outcomes.
Recently, Terrace Lane got a whole new look: new play equipment, swings, bike racks, benches, a pavilion and tables. The faux wrought iron fencing that runs along the curve of Terrace Lane gives this park an especially attractive street view.
Brookside, on the other hand, is kickin’ it old school. I’m guessing that, aside from the newer play equipment near Hale Street, all the other fixtures are from my era. Frankly, I think it’s kind of retro-cool. It’s got monkey bars, a pavilion and a swingset that are all painted light blue and/or yellow. Most of the lot is still wide open and available for kickball. (Home plate would be at the intersection of Hale & Virginia.)
I grabbed my ball from my car to give the small half-court and hoop a try. Ah, yes. The blacktop slopes downward toward Brookside. You have to use your legs more, the further you step out, to overcome that slope. And the left side of the rim is slightly higher. On that side of the court, you have to give your shots just a little more arc to clear the rim. This all came to me in a matter of seconds. Is it possible it’s the same hoop I shot at all those years ago? The muscles remember these things.
Well, if you want to show your kids what it was like “when I was your age,” walk or bike with them over to Brookside. If they start complaining, make them walk/bike over to Terrace Lane for the newer stuff. It’s not far at all. (Hale Street to a right on Prospect. Go left on Adams when you see Brookside Country Club, pass the North End pool, go left onto Terrace Lane, park will be on your left.)
Spruce Street Park was not on my radar growing up. It was a little beyond the radius I moved in around my home. I never ventured too far for hoops back then; Franklin was where I always practiced. I do remember coming home from college and hearing my younger brother and sister talking about the great basketball being played at Spruce Street, especially in the summer. I only played there a couple times, when I had come home for Christmas with my husband, and the weather was so warm that we all put on shorts and t-shirts and got in some games. The two full courts at Spruce Street still seem to be the place to find a good run, while the adjacent tot lot will appeal to the younger crowd.
BROOKSIDE PARK Location: It’s tucked away in residential area with streets on 3 sides: Hale Street, Virginia Avenue and Brookside, Pottstown, PA 19464. Size: .5 acre Suitability: 5-12 years old. Facilities: Playground, swings, multi-purpose open space, small pavilion & tables, basketball court. Activities + tips: On the b-ball court, use those legs, lift that ball up on your shots! Hours: Dawn until dusk.
TERRACE LANE PARK Location: On the curve of Terrace Lane, near the intersection with N. Adams Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. Size: ~ 0.5 acre Suitability: 5-12 years old. Facilities: Playground, large multi-purpose open space, benches/sitting areas, Activities + tips: This park can also be accessed from the alley between N. Warren St. & Terrace Lane. Hours: Dawn until dusk.
SPRUCE STREET PARK Location: Spruce Street, near intersection with Wilson Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. When you see the car wash, turn towards downtown Pottstown; park will be on your right. Size: 1 acre Suitability: Active and passive recreation for all ages. Facilities: Playground, multi-purpose open space, 2 full-courts for basketball. Activities + tips: These courts are popular with ballers; courts tend to attract older teens & adults. Parents will want to accompany their younger children to the tot lot. Hours: Dawn until dusk.
When I met Eileen Schlegel, the Director of Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department, in her new digs at Borough Hall, her office was a bit chaotic. The Department had recently moved from longtime quarters provided by the School District, and they were still in transition. While they made the move, though, they still had ongoing park maintenance and lots of events to support.
“Parks and Rec. is basically part of every activity that happens in town,” she said. “We’re behind the scenes providing tables, chairs, sound system, dunk tank, pop-up tents, you name it.”
As this series is unfolding, it should be obvious by now that Pottstown’s Parks and Recreation Department manages many acres and all kinds of equipment. Ms. Schlegel could not say enough good things about the four-man crew that maintains all of it.
“I have absolutely the best crew,” she said. “They’re in Riverfront Park right now, getting it ready for the Schuylkill River Festival. They’re trained. One has a construction background, another a landscaping background, another a degree in landscape design, and another is experienced with heavy equipment. For any given project, the one with the right experience takes the lead.”
I had already visited the mini-parks in the South End of Pottstown – Cherry Street, South Street and Pollock Park – and had a few questions for Ms. Schlegel.
Cherry Street Park is at the corner of Cherry and South Evans Street. It is mostly shaded and has a split rail fence around it to delineate boundaries for younger visitors. At just a quarter-acre in size, it offers a playground, table, benches and some open space, similar to the pocket parks we visited in central Pottstown yesterday. At Cherry Street, I met up with a group of guys with a basketball, in search of a hoop. They took a few minutes to pose for a photo instead.
Just a few blocks away, South Street Park is tucked into a quarter-acre lot on South Street near the intersection with South Washington Street, between the Holy Trinity Social Club and some row houses. The red, white and blue playset made me feel very patriotic and vaguely maritime. It has also got a doozy of a slide that gives a fast, bumpy ride!
An additional feature of South Street Park would be a full-court for basketball. I say “would be” because right now there are no poles or hoops on the large blacktop beyond the playground.
In talking with Ms. Schlegel, I learned that they already have the posts and hoops for basketball courts at South Street and at Terrace Lane Park in the North End (we’ll visit there tomorrow), and funds are available for re-surfacing. Right now the Department is locating the right equipment to properly set the posts. So, keep your fingers crossed that these projects can be done, and the blacktop spread, before the cold weather sets in.
Now, continuing eastward, let’s head to Pollock Park. Although Pollock sits in a triangle bordered by South and Cross Streets, you can’t go directly from South Street Park over to Pollock. You can go up to High Street, turn right to head east, turn right at the Post Office onto Madison Street, and then bear to the left at Cross Street. In another block, you can either go left onto South Street or stay to the right on Cross Street. The park will be up ahead. There’s a small parking lot on the Cross Street side.
The one-acre Pollock Park has large, grassy fields and has been the site of P.A.L. soccer for years. Like the other mini-parks, Pollock has got good play equipment, swings and mature trees that let visitors connect with nature in what is otherwise a predominantly industrial landscape. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to the rest of the park, the only one in the whole Pottstown system. There’s a tennis court with no net, no fence and large posts ringing the court; the fence around the basketball court could be repaired in a couple spots; and the parking area and fence need work. The reality is that the funding for the mini-parks has run out, and it’s not yet clear what would be the best use of this park if/when funds become available.
Borough Manager Jason Bobst said, “The Economic Development Sub-committee of Borough Council will soon be taking a look at the future of Pollock Park. This may eventually involve a design charrette process to figure out what the neighborhood wants,” he said.
It would also include a look at the current demographics of potential users of the park. Are they young children, or skateboarders, or soccer players? On my visit to Pollock, I asked a couple guys who were shooting around, if this was a good place to find a game.
“Nah,” they said. “Spruce Street is the place. There’s not even that many kids around here.”
“We’re analyzing what we already offer in all our pocket parks, and looking at what’s missing and what else we could offer,” he added.
During the course of the Trail Town Conference held last week in Pottstown, Pollock Park was mentioned as a possible trailhead or information area for bikers coming off the Schuylkill River Trail and entering Pottstown. It is not known exactly what facilities or how much parking might be needed for that kind of use. All possibilities need to be looked at in context and discussed with the neighborhood and other stakeholders in the course of coming up with an agreed-upon plan. And then considered again in light of available funding.
Olivet Boys & Girls Club started in 1898 and is one of the original founding members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America movement. It serves thousands of youth in Reading and Berks County and operates in four locations in Pottstown. In addition to its activities at The Ricketts Center, the Club partners with the Pottstown School District’s 21st Century Program to offer afterschool programming at Edgewood, Franklin and Lincoln Elementary Schools.
On a recent visit to the Ricketts Center – my first ever – I was surprised at the breadth of the programming offered by the Club. It was hard to keep it all straight! In general, the Club serves youth ages 6-18. Annual memberships, which coincide with the school calendar, are $15 per child.
The Club runs indoor basketball leagues, in-house flag football, VILLA Blacktop Basketball League in the summer, a “Smart Girls” program and “Passport to Manhood” program. They provide an afterschool “Power Hour,” which includes homework help in their computer center and a healthy “Super Snack,” which has been provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Students from the nearby Hill School are volunteer tutors at the Center on Monday – Thursday afternoons.
Olivet Boys & Girls Club summer camp runs for 8 weeks, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., costs just $25/week in Pottstown, and includes breakfast and lunch, one swim outing and one field trip each week.
The Club also offers fitness programs for adults. Adult membership for the Fitness Center and gym allows access Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Adults (with guts!) are welcome to join certified personal trainer and weight-loss coach Paul Winterbottom in his “Boot Camp,” a program to get you in shape in no time. They’ve got a well-stocked weight room, and the indoor basketball court had just been re-finished, so it was all shiny, and had that brand-new, shellacked smell that all of us ballers love! For $10/month or $100/year, this deal can’t be beat.
THE RICHARD J. RICKETTS CENTER Location: 640 Beech Street, Pottstown, PA 19464 (at the corner of Grant & Beech Streets)
Size: 0.5 acres Suitability: Membership required for youth 6-18 years old and adults (fitness only.) Facilities: Fenced-in tot lot & outdoor basketball court; indoor gym, teen center, weight room, community rooms Activities + tips: Ricketts Center is home to Head Start & Olivet Boys & Girls Club, which provides varied year-round programming for children, teens and adults. Hours: Open daily, includes after-school & evening programming. Membership Fees: Youth & Teen – $15 for Sept.-June; Adults – $10/month or $100/year. Contact: Jannie Harrison, Unit Director (484-945-1020) Website:Olivet Boys & Girls Club at The Ricketts Center, Pottstown
Tonight I’ll be at Father Doyne Hall at St. Pius X for one last run up and down the hardwood. While I’m proud of a lot of things accomplished during my Pius years, being part of two Ches-Mont championship teams in 1978 and 1979 ranks right up there, mostly because a lot of people thought we couldn’t do it, but also because I now think of it as a defining period for me, personally and politically, although I would not have described it that way then.
In the course of doing research for a memoir I’m writing about growing up, I’ve spent some time at the microform reader at the Pottstown Public Library, reading old articles from The Mercury. As so often happens, while I was looking for one particular article, I got distracted by another.
Back in those days, a sportswriter by the name of Ken Murray* had a column in The Mercury called “Ken’s Corner.” On June 21, 1974 it was titled, “Is There Room For a New League?” and it was all about St. Pius X looking to get into a new league now that the Suburban Athletic Conference had disbanded. Murray wrote, “What league could the small Catholic school join without stepping in over its head?” He goes on to speculate about a league of smaller schools, perhaps including Pottsgrove, Upper Perk, Methacton and Landsdale Catholic.
I’m pretty sure I read that piece back then, even though I would have been just eleven years old. I was a sports junkie. I followed major league baseball, basketball and football. And that was the year that I – and a handful of other girls – barged our way into Little League baseball in Pottstown. Back then, competition – any competition – felt like a matter of life and death to me. (I’m not always proud of that, but that’s for another time.) As a tomboy, I’d had a chip on my shoulder for as long as I could remember. Anything a boy could do, I wanted to do better. And then sports opportunities for girls were federally mandated through the passage of Title IX in 1972, and I felt personally vindicated.
Another reason I’m pretty sure I was a regular reader of Murray’s column is because I’d met him right around that time. Eight days after the Pius piece, his column featured me, one of my teammates (Caren Holsberger), and our baseball team (M & M Green) in “A Lonely Battle for Sue, Caren.” (That’s the article I was actually looking for.)
In middle school at St. Al’s I dreamed of playing basketball for Pius (the Suburban Catholic League champs in 1974), and it’s not inconceivable that I carried a kind of “I’ll show you, Ken Murray and all you other doubters” attitude around for years until I got the chance. Pius entered the Ches-Mont my junior year. The league had some big schools – Coatesville, Downington, West Chester Henderson, West Chester East, Pottstown. Murray was absolutely right. Pius was a small school. It was the only Catholic school. And we were all white. Racial tensions from the 70s still ran high; I remember police escorting us off the bus at some schools. Playoff games and title games were fraught with emotion and a kind of danger. And we won. Yes, we had some amazing talent (shout-out to my classmate and teammate, Carol Glutz, the school’s all-time leading scorer.) But under Coaches Bernadette and Bill Travers, we also worked our butts off. Every day.
All of this opened my eyes to a larger world: laws got passed in Washington that affected me personally. Gender equity, race relations, and social unrest weren’t far-away concepts that just appeared in headlines. They played themselves out in our own towns and on basketball courts. I think I was also tuned in because I was in the midst of getting a Catholic education, steeped in the values of social justice. While I have not been a practicing Catholic for quite some time, that blood still runs through me. There’s no shaking that, nor do I want to.
So, when I step on the court at Pius tonight and pose for photos with our championship banner with my sister, Michele Dunleavy (varsity girls’ coach at Phoenixville), and my old teammates and friends, all this – and a whole lot more – will be running through my heart and head. And through my veins. St. Pius X will always be more than a building. Its spirit will continue to move through all those who walked its halls and played on its courts and fields – sometimes as though their lives depended on it.