Southwest Philadelphia and its vibrant sports community welcomed a brand-new mini soccer pitch — the first of more than a dozen coming to the city over the next five years — as well as newly renovated basketball and tennis courts to the Francis J. Myers Recreation Center on Tuesday.
The unveiling marks the first stage of a partnership between the city’s Rebuild program — Mayor Jim Kenney’s initiative that uses soda-tax funds to refresh rundown recreational facilities in high-need neighborhoods — with the Philadelphia Union and Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer.
In 2019, the groups announced they would commit $3.5 million to build 15 mini soccer pitches and two full-size signature fields across Philadelphia in various Parks and Recreation facilities by 2025.
Finally, on Tuesday, the first was unveiled.
Despite the high temperatures, more than 100 community members, soccer players, and city leaders — including Kenney — gathered in the space, enjoying free ice cream and water ice, games, and music.
The event also marks the first stage of a much-needed investment in Francis J. Myers Rec Center, a six-acre-plus park at 58th Street and Kingsessing Avenue that has long served as a cornerstone for Southwest Philly. About $350,000 was invested into the first phase of the project, and in the fall, Rebuild will begin the community-engagement stage of a full renovation of the center and surrounding property.
“I feel overwhelmed. I feel excited for this community, for our youth to have something special of their own,” said Jamila Abdur, the rec leader of the center. “I hope this ignites the fire for what’s to come in that building.”
Abdur, who has worked in Parks and Rec for more than 35 years, said she hopes the additional renovations will bring the Southwest Philly community’s legacy to life and uplift the “spirit in that building.”
Numerous sports teams practice at F.J. Myers — which includes a baseball and soccer field, four basketball courts, a pool, and indoor space — but for the last 20 years, independent soccer leagues have been maintaining the grass fields, said coach and soccer player Foday Turay.
Seeing the city invest in the space is a big win, said Turay, who runs the youth soccer league, Salone Football Club, and is also the captain of the Sierra Leone team of the Philadelphia Unity Cup, an annual adult soccer tournament in which Philly immigrants representing their home countries participate.
“We’ve been fighting for this for a long time,” he said.
The Sierra Leone team practices at F.J. Myers, while his youth club practices at Connell Park at 64th Street and Elmwood Avenue. Turay said the pitch, which will be atop a paved surface, will be useful for speed, agility, and footwork training, as the ball will move more quickly than it would on a grass field. Turay said once area kids and families notice the new facility, his phone will start ringing asking when they can come practice.
Mini-pitches are small areas designed for four-on-four soccer programs and pick-up games. They can be constructed on the site of old tennis or basketball courts, or built as turf or grass fields. At F.J. Myers, the pitch occupies a previously underused tennis court, with a mural by artist Calo Rosa titled Unity Chant in the center.
Capitolo Playground in East Passyunk and the Olney Recreation Center will see the next mini-pitches open. The locations for the two full-size soccer fields are still being planned, a Rebuild spokesperson said.