The South Philly Sigma Sharks were swimming in dangerous waters.
The youth football program has always called Chew Playground at 18th Street and Washington Avenue in Point Breeze its home despite badly needing an upgrade.
Most of the grass was gone and the Sharks were playing in a dustbowl.
“It was a really hard surface,” said coach Anthony Meadows, president of the South Philly Sigma Sharks. “There were literally rocks on the ground everywhere. Kids would fall and cut their arms on rocks and pebbles. In the summertime, when it’s hot, it was all dust. You didn’t want to wear your good shoes to this field because they were going to get messed up.”
Last week, the city’s Rebuild program cut the ribbon on nearly $2 million worth of renovations that transformed Chew Playground from a deplorable dusty lot into a state-of-the-art practice facility.
City and state officials, along with community members and players from the Sharks, gathered for a celebratory ribbon cutting on Nov. 5 as the playground officially reopened. The Sharks had been utilizing Vare Playground since renovations at Chew started in 2019.
“We know that parks, playgrounds and recreation centers are the heartbeat of our city’s neighborhoods, playing a critical part in supporting our young people.” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “I’m also so grateful to the community on this project and I’m excited that we are finally at the finish line.”
The improvements to Chew Playground were made possible by the City’s Rebuild program, Philadelphia’s historic investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in neighborhood parks, recreation centers and libraries across the city.
The 2.8-acre Chew Playground received $1.8 million, which included significant remediation of the athletic fields to ensure healthy and safe playing conditions for young athletes. Chew was rendered unplayable due to soil contamination at the site and needed 18 inches of soil remediation across the entire site.
After that was completed, the fields were sodded and new football and soccer goalposts were installed. Benches and bleachers were updated throughout the site and new interior and exterior fencing was installed. New trees were added and the baseball infield was regraded with new infield mix.
“The Point Breeze community has long deserved improvements to this park and it’s finally time to unveil the city’s hard work on this project,” said Kira Strong, executive director of Rebuild. “I talk a lot about the importance of partnership and collaboration with local businesses and community members with Rebuild, and this site is no different. It’s incredible to see Chew Playground come back to life.”
It’s now a place the Sharks are proud to call their practice facility.
“Chew is our home and we’re proud to have it back,” Meadows said. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids to have this grass with nice goalposts and everything. It gives them an opportunity to prepare for Florida.”
The Sharks’ 14-year-old football team recently won the city championship and qualified to play in the national championship in Kissimmee, Florida in December. The Sharks can properly prepare for the big tournament without the risk of scraping an arm on a rock.
“There was no diving for a ball on pebbles and rocks,” Meadows said. “That wasn’t happening. But this is great. It’s like an NFL-quality field. It’s terrific and it couldn’t come at a better time.”
State Rep. Jordan Harris was all smiles during the ribbon cutting, having played youth sports at Chew Playground.
“I grew up playing football right here at this facility,” Harris said. “You used to have to cover your eyes from all the dust and dirt. These kids deserve this, they need it, and quite honestly, when you talk about keeping young people off the streets, you can’t have that conversation without these facilities.”
After public speakers wrapped up, the Sharks eagerly took the field.
“Youth sports are a fundamental part of the community fabric here in South Philadelphia,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner. “Leagues like the Sharks rely on our public playing fields to run programs that keep young people safe and focused on positive opportunities. The reopening of this beautiful new natural grass field at Chew is a big step toward delivering the additional field space South Philadelphia youth sports organizations so desperately need.”
The “wow” factor was in full effect.
“Look at the quality of the workmanship on this field,” Kenney said. “It’s just amazing. This may be the best field in the city other than Lincoln Financial Field.”