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People in the News | YMCA's chief is rooting for (old) new home team

Although he is living in Philadelphia for the first time in his 54 years, John F. Flynn, the new president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity, said no one should doubt his Philadelphia sports loyalties.

Emily Poe is vice president in the public relations group at Vox Medica.
Emily Poe is vice president in the public relations group at Vox Medica.Read more

Although he is living in Philadelphia for the first time in his 54 years, John F. Flynn, the new president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity, said no one should doubt his Philadelphia sports loyalties.

"I grew up with Ron Westbrook, Brian's dad, and we played sports together since we were in kindergarten," said Flynn, referring to the father of the Philadelphia Eagles running back. "I go to a game or two with him every year, so I am a diehard Eagles fan. I'm sure I will love it here full time."

Flynn, who has worked in Albany, N.Y., for the last 21 years, comes to Philadelphia's YMCAs at a crucial time. While the YMCA has served generations of health-seekers, it has been buffeted by competition from all sorts of health clubs, both multifaceted and specific.

There are clubs for martial arts, tennis, basketball, and who knows what else. Flynn's challenge is to show that the YMCA has community as well as exercise in mind, and its mission, unchanged through the years, is as valid in the 21st century as it was before.

The YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity has 10 branches, from inner city to suburban to small town. They range from the Christian Street YMCA in South Philadelphia, one of the first African American YMCAs in the country, to the Rocky Run branch in Media and those in Hatboro, Ambler and the Main Line.

Raised in Holyoke, Mass., Flynn said he grew up as a "Y" gym rat. The game of volleyball was, in fact, invented at the Holyoke YMCA, according to a number of sources.

But it was basketball that attracted Flynn, who was good enough to play it in college at Loyola University in Montreal. He went home to Holyoke after college and became a social worker at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, meanwhile coaching basketball teams at the YMCA in his spare time.

"One day, someone came up to me at a game and asked if I would like to be the executive director," he said. "I looked into it, and it seemed like a good thing."

After eight years in Holyoke, he moved to Albany to become that area's YMCA chief. He raised a son and daughter there, and was on the city council for 10 years, but still had the desire to go to a bigger place.

"Even though there were 10 Ys in the Albany area, the same as here, it was a wonderful opportunity to come to Philadelphia," he said, noting that the YMCA budget in Philadelphia is $40 million, compared with only $30 million in Albany, so the challenge is greater here.

Meanwhile, he is already preparing for the next Eagles season.

"It will be great to be here all season and see Ron at Brian's games. He was a great athlete, too, though he was only 5-8 and 150 pounds," Flynn said. "And to think we both got our start at the Y."

- Robert Strauss

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