In the eyes of Anthony “Tubes” Benedetto, turning down an aspiring athlete was never an option.
The West Passyunk resident has always vehemently believed that no obstacle should ever stop a child from getting a chance at bat.
For close to 30 years, Benedetto instilled that core value as president of Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association, based at 2800 S. 19th St.
Having touched the lives of thousands of budding South Philadelphia baseball and football players, DVYAA recently dedicated its fields to the president emeritus, who retired a few years ago.
“I don’t think this organization would be here if it wasn’t for him,” said current DVYAA president Anthony Verratti. “He did the work of five, 10 guys without a computer, without a cell phone.”
In the mid-1980s, Benedetto initially got involved with DVYAA when his son started playing baseball.
After serving for a few years on the executive board, he was promoted to president after demonstrating extraordinary dedication to the association.
Benedetto felt his plan of action was based on one objective – fairness.
“I just wanted to make sure that we kept the cost down,” he said. “That it didn’t cost people an arm and a leg to play. It’s an in-house league. It’s for all the kids, whether they’re good or bad. I just wanted to make sure that everyone was treated fairly.”
With competing sports leagues popping up around the area, especially travel teams, deprioritizing talent and expenses could be viewed as a dicey decision, but the DVYAA executive board says these principles have contributed to the success of the organization, which was founded in 1953.
Such practices have been passed down to future generations.
“It’s a longstanding tradition here,” Verratti said. “Our biggest thing is we’ve never turned a kid away – whether it was financially or ability to play ball. We’ve always found spots for these kids, and that’s just what it is – for these kids to come, keep them out of trouble. We always try to have something here for them.”
By stripping away expensive costs and athletic requirements, DVYAA, which Verratti says welcomes up to 350 attendees in each of its spring ball, fall ball and touch football seasons, makes itself more accessible to children ages 5 to 12 years old.
Accessibility allows for the cornerstone of the association to rest not in competence but instead community.
“You’re playing with your friends,” said DVYAA treasurer Domenic Nardini. “You’re playing with the neighborhood kids, which is really what this thing was. It was all neighborhoods…It is keeping those types of values and ideals because, again, we talk about things in the neighborhood. I would love for when my kids are 40, 50, 60 years old that they’re having the same conversation about this.”
Though Benedetto’s legacy is all about inclusion, he made some fundamental technical athletic changes to the DVYAA system.
Most notably, he established an ongoing tee-ball program for 5- and 6-year-olds.
Unlike some tee-ball games, the association has the youngsters play on the fields and even keeps score, which, the executive board says, helps condition the players in the long run, especially as they graduate to DVYAA’s Little League Baseball program or even high school and college-level teams.
“They’re ready to play,” Verratti said. “They’re ready to run the bases. These kids are learning the game. You can see the difference. When they get to the live pitch, they’re ready to play.”
Though Verratti says people feel the effectiveness of tee-ball is debatable, the association is not eliminating the program any time soon.
“As far as I’m concerned, tee-ball is the most important thing I did or (DVYAA) did,” Benedetto said.
As president, he also created the touch football program, which runs every November through January, more than two decades ago.
The fundament of the league, which will encompass about 25 teams this season, also echoes the DVYAA mission.
“We took a lot of the roughness out of it,” Benedetto said. “As far as the officials rules go, we made rules that were pretty easy. It took a lot of judgment out of it.”
In mid-October, a rainy Sunday afternoon couldn’t stop close to 100 individuals, including coaches and former and current DVYAA athletes, from attending a surprise ceremony for Benedetto, where they officially dedicated the fields in his name.
During the event, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and state Rep. Maria Donatucci honored him with official citations.
“We just wanted to let him know. We felt he deserved it,” Nardini said. “We thought this was the highest honor – just name the fields after him…He never liked the attention. We were worried he wasn’t going to show up that day. We had to lie to him to get him down here.”
Looking toward the future, Nardini and Verratti, who were former coaches recruited by Benedetto, say the DVYAA executive board doesn’t intend on tweaking the organization’s practices.
They hope to fundamentally maintain all of the moral and athletic values Benedetto instilled for decades.
As for Benedetto, he is confident he’s left the association in nurturing hands.
“I mean this seriously – I’ve had so much good help there,” he said. “I can’t ever remember asking somebody to do something that we needed done that they refused to do it. Everyone was always willing to help.”