Tara Kirchner and her son Kevin Jr. pose with a portrait of their late husband and father, Kevin Tanczak, outside of their home, Thursday, July 28, 2011, in Philadelphia.
In the river wards, summer is a time of tournaments.
Like no other part of the city, neighborhoods like Fishtown and Port Richmond come together each year for a string of competitive events that draw thousands to area sports fields.
Most of these events have an underlying goal — supporting a family that has suffered, remembering a lost loved one, or raising money for a worthy cause.
Last weekend, Port Richmond was overtaken by the grandfather of them all — The Sean Daily Memorial Sports Tournament. That event, held mostly on the fields at the Cohocksink Recreation Center at Cedar and Ann streets, began 23 years ago.
As is often the case, the original inspiration for the tournament was a tragic death.
On May 21, 1989, Sean Daily, the son of Philadelphia Police officer Keith Daily, was beaten and shot to death not far from his Port Richmond home by a mob of angry teens seeking revenge for a fight that took place earlier that week.
The shocking murder sparked citywide outrage, and the residents of Port Richmond were determined to keep Sean Daily’s memory alive. At the time of his death he was just 17 and about to graduate from North Catholic High School.
And, it just so happened that Keith Daily was one of the dads that helped form the Port Richmond Tigers athletic association in 1976.
That combination led to the first-ever Sean Daily Memorial Sports Tournament, a scholarship fund that raised $43,000 in its first eight months.
Tom Mack, a long time Tigers coach, has helped organize the tournament for the last 17 years, and remembers the first one vividly.
“There was nothing like it. It was given massive coverage,” recalled Mack. “City Hall put up a softball team, even WIP 610 put up a team.”
But, really, Mack said, the tournament was a neighborhood thing, and still is.
“It was a tragic thing that happened to Sean, and it had a lasting impact on the people in the neighborhood,” said Mack.
Last weekend’s event saw 37 teams compete over three days with thousands of spectators. There were so many teams this year that they had to use some of the fields at the nearby Cione Playground to accommodate all of the games.
“It was one of the best years we’ve ever had,” said Mack, noting that despite the big turnout, there were relatively few problems with underage drinking and other headaches that can accompany such large crowds.
Mack said Daily’s mother and father have both passed away, and the event has been adopted and organized by a tight team of Tigers volunteers. Today, rather than raise money for scholarships, the event helps raise money for the sports association and other community coffers, such as the Police Survivors Fund.
“We don’t get anything from the city, but we have 350 kids from the neighborhood that we’re trying to keep off the streets,” Mack said of the Tigers. “This helps us so we don’t have to worry about making parents reach into their pockets too deep with registration fees.”
He and others are quick to point out that the Sean Daily tournament sparked a number of similar events locally — Mack easily rattled off a half dozen different tragedies that were memorialized with local tournaments over the years.
While many have fallen by the wayside, others have become iconic summer rituals here in the river wards.
One of the biggest is the Margaret “Peg” McCook Sports Tournament, which was held at Cione July 15–17. That event, now 13 years and counting, also drew a huge crowd this year and raised money for the American Cancer Society and scholarships for students entering high school.
Giving both a run for their money in terms of funds raised and longevity is Fishtown’s Freddy Adams Tournament, which kicks off Friday, Aug. 12 and spans the weekend. Second only to the Daily tournament, Freddy Adams began in 1993 and has been a popular event in the neighborhood ever since.
Like the Daily tournament, the Fishtown event was spawned by the murder of a young man and a community’s grief.
In fact, the similarities are many — Freddy Adams, 16, lived on Flora Street near the Fishtown Recreation Center on Montgomery Avenue and was beaten to death in March of 1993 during a brawl with other teens from a rival recreation center.
Sara Colville, Freddy’s aunt, said at first friends just held a soccer tournament to help cover funeral costs. But, taking inspiration from the Daily organizers, they soon expanded the event to a full-on tournament that consumed Fishtown’s athletic fields.
Colville said getting the tournament together every year is a challenge — from the city permits and porta-potties to the trophies and T-shirts — but that it’s worth the trouble.
“I dread the work, but then when everyone stands there together at the end, there’s always been some other person that met a tragic end that year,” said Colville. “I just think how glad I am to be here with these friends.”
While the tournament is often a summer highlight for area kids and adults, the family also uses it as a time to remember Freddy.
“You think about what he would have been like,” said Colville. “Would he have been married? Would he have kids? All weekend, people will talk about and remember the things Freddy did.”
Colville also admitted that the tournament has seen ups and downs over the years, but said the event typically draws 2,000 people and raises between $15,000 and $18,000 before expenses are paid. Whatever is left goes toward scholarships and some seed money to get the event going again next year.
Like the Daily before them, the Freddy Adams has been a template for others in the neighborhood.
Kevin Tanczak was 21 when he was shot and killed in 2006, leaving behind his fiancée, Tara Kirchner, and a 1-year-old son, Kevin Jr.
Every summer for the last six years, friends have gathered for the Kevin Tanczack Tournament, which raises money to help pay for Kevin Jr.’s education. They also plan to donate to the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia and Lost Dreams on Canvas this year.
Kirchner, 27, grew up playing in the Freddy and played in the Daily tournament this year. Kevin’s friends approached her about holding a tournament shortly after Kevin’s death.
“At first, I didn’t want to do it,” said Kirchner. “I just wanted to sit by myself in my house.”
But she eventually gave in, and has helped to organize the tournament — focusing mostly on horseshoes and volleyball — over the last few years.
This year, the event will be held at the Ukrainian Club on Franklin Street in Northern Liberties on Saturday Sept. 10.
And while Kirchner said she and Kevin’s family hold a candlelight vigil each year, it’s helpful for her son to see his father’s friends gathering to remember him.
“I think it’s good for him to see that,” said Kirchner.••
The Freddy Adams Sport Tournament will take place Aug. 12–14. Opening Ceremonies will start at Hetzell’s Field, Thompson Street and Columbia Avenue, at approximately 6:15 p.m.
All sports rosters can be picked up at the Fishtown Recreation Center (Montgomery and Moyer) or Shissler Recreation Center, Montgomery Avenue and Blair Street.
If you have any sports-related questions, please contact Bobby Mulvenna at 215–554–7198.
For all other questions, please contact Sara Colville at 215–514–8404. You can also get up-to-date information on the tournament Facebook page by searching for “Freddy Adams-Tournament.”
If you would like a roster e-mailed to you, please message Freddy Adams-Tournament on Facebook and provide the sport you are looking for and your email address; it will be sent within 24 hours. Roster Deadline: Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.
To get involved in the Kevin Tanczak Tournament, visit http://facebook.com/kevintanczaktournament.••