Ice to meet all of you

These youngsters and their predecessors have helped Rizzo Rink to stick around as a hockey haven for three decades.

Photo by Mark E. Carosiello Sr.

Watching son Ryan as he waited to take to the ice at Rizzo Rink Saturday afternoon, Beth Coleman beamed over what the last four years have meant for his maturation. Thousands of fellow locals have likewise boasted of the location’s prowess since the 1987 inception of youth hockey, with proud parents, excited participants and dedicated employees helping to make the last three decades a reflection of the power of community engagement and positive visions.

“Everything that happens here is about promoting teamwork and sportsmanship,” Coleman said as youngsters reported for group photos, with some children then engaging in games. “It’s a pleasure to bring him here because his time among the other players and coaches does wonders for him not only athletically but also development-wise.”

The 2013 South Philly Review Difference Maker and St. Monica School teacher noted that her 8-year-old, a junior league player at the site, 1001 S. Front St., and his peers excel because the overseers value opportunities to nurture figurative goals in the pursuit of literal ones. That emphasis has enabled the Girard Estate resident to consider the rink a haven and has filled Angelo Pinto with seemingly endless superlatives for his contemporaries.

“They’ve always stressed the rewards of encouraging and presenting a family-friendly atmosphere,” the space’s advisory council president said. “Everybody thrives here. It’s simply a city facility that works great.”

The East Passyunk Crossing resident received ample proof of that over the weekend, with mites, junior leaguers and seniors flashing their pearly whites (Here’s hoping further involvement keeps those choppers intact) for pictures. For Ryan, the tenure at Rizzo Rink has meant additional recreational joy when he is not playing baseball for the Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association, 2840 S. 18th St., and excellent chances to be a leader.

“It’s very entertaining,” the St. Monica student said of suiting up and gliding on the Pennsport-based surface. “It also gives me more confidence to do well with my work and to help my classmates believe in themselves.”

The boy believes the upcoming years will yield even more adventures for him and the other skaters under the Rizzo Rink banner, with Pinto eager to have those aspirations come to fruition.

“I’ve been involved here for 27 years, and there have been some challenges, and there will continue to be moments that test you,” the 19th-year council helmer said, with the commonwealth’s 2011 announcement that repairs to I-95 will necessitate the eventual demolition of Rizzo Rink (Fundraisers have worked to set aside money for the erection of a replacement space) as a chief topic of consideration. “Our record of helping kids to grow and become outstanding members of their communities, though, is unmatched, and that’s what’s going to carry us into the future as an even more reputable spot to come to.”

That compelling pitch has made attracting consistent sponsors an easy task for the Rizzo bunch, who serve hundreds of upstarts through the youth hockey initiative. Happy to fraternize with South Philadelphians and to help son Benjamin and friends to revere the rink even more, Eric Berger is enjoying his second-year as a benefactor and finds himself impressed with the noticeable effects that enrollment has on the children.

“This place does it right,” the Center City resident and founder/owner of the South-of-South-situated Center City pediatrics said. “With respect to the promotion of development and the fostering of sportsmanship, this place gets it, and you can’t go wrong with a program that invests so much into making sure these kids feel valued. The same goes for parents. We feel we’re investing our time and money wisely.”

In his fourth season as a Rizzo participant, Benjamin loves handling left wing duties for his club and fostering friendships. His father noted that delivering checks also presents a few thrills, leading the 9-year-old to reply with “Well, yes, that’s true, too.” The Bergers and their ice-obsessed acquaintances will be bonding until early March, at which time the 13-week season will conclude and the powers that be will shift to dry sports, notably roller and ball hockey, skateboarding, and soccer, with recreation leader Anthony DiFlorio III, who resides in Bella Vista, adding that circus artists have also used the venue for training.

“It can be easy to focus on hockey, especially since we’re celebrating 30 years for our youth program, but there’s so much to behold here,” Pinto said of the building that opened in 1979, with Rizzo’s summer camp as another constant provider of mirth. “We’re all about reaching out and giving opportunities to whoever wants them, including college kids that we hire. Nobody who comes here is going to feel left out.”

The president also takes pride in the independent status that Rizzo enjoys, as the program elected in 2008 to refrain from joining the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, becoming the lone rink among five City-owned destinations to do so. Two years later, the spot received a commendation as the cleanest recreation center, yet another inviting detail when publicizing its amenities.

“The big thing I get out of being affiliated with Rizzo is putting smiles on kids’ faces,” Lou Lozzi III, a former player who serves as a volunteer coach and an employee for the site’s public skate component, said. “It’s about giving them the courage to progress. For me, I’d say that emphasis on motivation and that push to strengthen communities will continue to attract people in the coming years.”

“He’s a perfect example of what I mean when I say that people don’t go away for long,” Pinto said of the Whitman resident, adding that he would love to be able to track down and reunite the original mites for a reunion. “So many people have come through here, including (Mayor) Jim Kenney, who coached many of our kids. Once you come here, you’re stuck in the best way possible, so here’s to at least 30 more years of lacing ’em up and hitting the ice.”