By Bill Gelman
I joined the South Philly Review in 1998 as a full-time sports writer. Did I think at the time that I would still be a staff member in 2017? No way. But here I am, with a different title, still watching South Philly stories unfold before my eyes. I was thinking it would be fun covering the top stories from each decade, but when you aren’t around to see them unfold, it’s simply not the same. Being that this is the 70th anniversary issue, I thought it would be the perfect time to bring back an old favorite of mine — the South Philly 10. Here is a look back at some of my favorite topics.
Road trip with the Neumann-Goretti boys basketball team: Little did I realize when I took this job with the South Philly Review that it would include a weekend trip to Springfield, Mass., with the Neumann-Goretti boys basketball team. It was one of those unique experiences where I traveled with the Saints on the team bus, toured the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with them and joined the players and coaches for meals. After the game, all of the young fans in attendance were going up to the players like future Syracuse University players Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine for autographs. By the way, the other team had some high school standout by the name of Kevin Durant. Everybody knows where he ended up.
South Philly Review Difference Makers: We broke away from this annual fall theme this year to introduce the Top Businessmen and Businesswomen of South Philly, and of course this week’s 70th anniversary issue. One thing I’ve learned about the majority of residents in South Philly is they have a passion for their community. No one asks them to go above or beyond the call of duty to improve his or her neighborhood or help others, but they do. Do they seek the spotlight in return? Absolutely not. The Difference Makers issue is our way of recognizing the efforts. There are many, many more of you worthy of being added to this prestigious group. Looking forward to bringing it back in 2018.
2008 World Series Parade: I had just returned from a trip to Central Florida, which included attending attending Game 1 of the World Series in Tampa, to cover something I never thought I would see in my career — a World Series parade in Philadelphia. It was like a national holiday in Philadelphia, including some very creative sidewalk parking jobs. I took in all of the festivities from the press box at Citizens Bank Park until the very end when I stepped on the field with the champions. I was standing near the mound interviewing Jamie Moyer.
Here I am nine-plus years later still waiting for the next one to come. Could the Philadelphia Eagles be next? No comment.
65th Anniversary Issue: Hard to believe this one came out five years ago. Yes, I did lose a few hours of sleep putting it to bed as it kept growing and growing. Still not sure how we pulled it off. Looking back, it provided a great history lesson on the longstanding South Philly lesson on all of the local businesses, schools and other places that have been around for an eternity.
Growth of the avenue: This topic is really a compilation of many stories, too many to count. Yes, East Passyunk Avenue has an odd shape to it, but it seems no matter which way you turn there is a great restaurant paired with some great shopping. It continues to be a go-to spot for block parties and events. The Singing Fountain continues to be a great gathering spot for residents and outsiders. Let’s not forget about the fact that the avenue had earned national accolades as one of the top Foodie streets in America. Hungry?
Readers Choice Issue: This is the main course to our annual Spring Guide, and it comes together over the course of several weeks. You, the reader, vote on a variety of topics, and we do all of the tallying. Who needs an accountant? Then it’s time to break the news … The Readers’ Choice winner is …
Down go the Vet and Spectrum: Like the South Philly Review, both of these buildings were home to so many memories. My connection did not include leaving the Vet with a toilet seat hanging around my neck. Seriously, both of these venues were Philadelphia landmarks. It was only fitting that before they both came tumbling down for newer, state-of-the-art facilities that they each receive a proper tribute — separate Fall Guides.
Pizza Palooza: We have written so many pizza stories over the years that I am getting full just thinking about it. There is no doubt South Philly has its share of delicious pizza establishments, but the topic I am referring to here is of course SPR’s entry into the foodie event game — the Pizza Olympics, better known today as Pizza Palooza. Every summer, numerous establishments bring boxes upon boxes of their best pies for attendees to sample all in the spirit of a fun night out on the town.
2000 Republican National Convention: Years before Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Convention came to South Philly, the Republican Party took over the Philly spotlight. For those who forgot, that was year the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were on the ticket and went on to win on Election Day. Being on the event floor during the convention is an experience I will never forget.
U.S. Olympic Trials: Face it, it’s highly unlikely we will ever see the Olympic Games come through the City of Brotherly Love. But South Philly got its taste of Olympic caliber competition back in 2008 when the U.S. Olympic Trials — Gymnastics took place at the Wachovia Center (now the Wells Fargo Center). I spent several days watching the drama unfold, posting blog updates. The most exciting part was of course watching USA Gymnastics announce the athletes heading to Beijing.