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They’ve been good sports for 50 years

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.

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