LEROY FISHER recalled the good ol' days for Hunting Park yesterday.
"When I was a child, it was a wonderful place," said Fisher, 42, president of Hunting Park United. "It had the carousel, the playground and the pool. It was a nice place to go."
But then, the bad ol' days of crime hit hard starting in the mid-1980s.
"The park was not an attractive place," said Fisher, a school-bus driver. "There was a lot of drug use and prostitution. It wasn't a safe park. They didn't have good lighting. When it got dark, you didn't want to be in the park."
But Fisher was among a crowd of community members who yesterday praised the return of good days for the park, at 9th Street and Hunting Park Avenue.
They watched tennis legend Billie Jean King, Deputy Mayor Michael DiBerardinis, City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and others launch the opening of the renovated Hunting Park tennis courts.
King's Philadelphia Freedom World TeamTennis squad contributed to the renovation fund and has pledged to pay for the first three years of a year-round after-school tennis program to be operated by the Legacy Youth Tennis and Education Center, the organization formerly called the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Center.
There are six courts painted in the multicolored hues of the Mylan World TeamTennis courts.
King said she learned to play tennis on public courts in Long Beach, Calif.
"My parents could never have afforded tennis lessons," she said. "The second time I played tennis, I played on a public park, and by the end of the day, I knew this was what I was going to do the rest of my life."
Before the ceremony, King greeted a contingent of students from Little Flower Catholic High School, who sat on the courts.
Working her way through the crowd, she gave fist bumps to many of the girls. Then, she gave a fist bump to Little Flower President Sister Donna Shallo.
Shallo said the school, across 10th Street from the park, is delighted it can use the tennis courts for its new tennis club, which has about 70 girls.
The courts are just the latest in a $20 million renovation of the 87-acre park.
Starting in 2010, two new playgrounds were installed. There is a new community garden and a farmers market every Saturday.
In April 2012, the Phillies' Ryan Howard dedicated a new baseball field. And Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is helping to build a new football field for the Hunting Park Aztecs and others to play on. It's expected to be completed in the fall.
In 2004, the Aztecs won the National Liberty Youth Pop Warner League Championship, even though the field was in such terrible shape they couldn't play games there.
"We're excited about the whole Hunting Park revitalization," Shallo said. "I've been here 22 years, and to see these improvements, it's just a world of difference in the park."