After 77 years, Chadmoore group still branching out

Three of a kind! Chadmoore member Joe Marra (right) poses for a photo with his son Joe Marra (center) and grandson Joe Marra (left). Photo/Mark Zimmaro

It was just like old times.

There was laughing and cheering, and of course, the storytelling. Lots and lots of stories, that for the most part kept their integrity over three-quarters of a century.

The Chadmoore Alumni Association was all smiles at Chickie’s & Pete’s in South Philadelphia as the social group gathered for an Eagles watch party to share in good times while witnessing the Eagles defeat the New York Giants, 48-22, on Dec. 11.

It was the 27th official Eagles watch party by the club, which represents just a small drop in the bucket of the times members of the old South Philly Club made the effort to keep in touch with one another.

“We wanted to continue it as we got into second and third generations,” said Joe Persico, 86, a Chadmoore member who does a large part of the organizing. “Although people moved away, we wanted to stay in touch and continue our knowledge of one another.”

Bernard Masino (right) and Joe Persico (center) count money for the 50-50 drawing, which raises money for the Chadmoore Alumni Association. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Sadly, a large number of more than 100 original members have died off. And though the numbers technically dwindled over the years, the headcount at events is still boisterous and strong. New generations have joined in the traditional festivities and 84 people rubbed elbows at the Bookbinder bar of Chickie’s & Pete’s to watch and celebrate the Eagles’ win. 

“We have three generations here today,” said Dominic Sabatini, who grew up at 20th and Jackson and now lives in Margate. “It’s my son, my grandson and me. I look forward to this, because as the years go by, there’s less of us. It’s a nice thing to keep up. But it’s guys that come together and share a bond.”

It’s how the Chadmoore Athletic Club got started in the first place right as World War II ended in 1945. After utilizing a couple of small South Philly locations including a heatless garage and a candy store, the club eventually dug in its roots at a club at 1838 S. Bancroft St., now known as Jiminy Cricket’s Club and American Legion Post 200. The club derived its name from a combination of Chadwick and Moore streets and supported sports teams while holding dances and block parties.

“Everyone had character,” Sabatini, 82, said. “No one ever got arrested. You could imagine 150 people passing through there and they all had their values. It was a lot of fun and a lot of good times.”

Tom Reilly (left) watches the football game in front of the Chadmoore banner with his family at the 27th Chadmoore Eagles watch party. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Those good times have continued for 77 years, although in different fashion. Now, it’s monthly breakfasts at the Phily Diner and Sports Bar on the Black Horse Pike and an annual Eagles watch party, usually near the end of the regular season. It’s become a highly anticipated event with an added enthusiasm from a younger crowd that has joined in. 

“We keep the club together as best we can,” said Joe Marra, who brought his son and grandson also named Joe. “Now we get members’ families to come and it’s a great time.”

Tom Reilly, who grew up at 30th and Tasker and now lives in Delran, filled a table with family members for the game. He made great memories in South Philly and continued to do the same on Sunday.

“I played 18 years of sandlot and semi-pro football that all started in South Philly,” Reilly said. “It’s really fun coming back here every year to see these guys.”

An entire joining room was filled with family and friends of 90-year-old Al Wilkocz, who was an original member. About 40 friends and family made the trip to watch some football and join in Al’s favorite pastime.

“We’ve been coming for the last 20 or so years,” said Al’s son Greg Wilkocz. “It’s the Eagles game, but it’s really the Chadmoore game. It’s one of the big events we do as a family. My sons and their friends are here. My in-laws, my father, my brother, my nephews — we’re all here.”

The staff at Chickie’s & Pete’s in South Philly takes a rare breather while serving more than 80 guests at the Chadmoore Eagles watch party. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

And they were all well-fed. Nonstop trays of food and beverages were at their fingertips by a hard-working crew at Chickie’s & Pete’s. Bartender Billy Marchio had a smile on his face while keeping the glasses full.

“I actually grew up around the corner from Chadwick and Moore (streets),” Marchio said. “This is great. It’s a South Philly thing. They have their social club. My dad belongs to a social club. It’s that South Philly Italian way of life. Me and my friends don’t have a social club per se, but we get together every year for a Christmas dinner or a random dinner. One day this is going to be me and my friends.”

Chadmoore raised money through 50-50s and a block pool, which go back into the club since it is self-funded. It pays for some of the breakfasts and other events throughout the year. 

“Nobody funds us,” Persico said proudly. “It’s all dues from members. No outside funding and we like it that way. We didn’t go to the city or state for money.”

Members of the Wilkocz family pose for a picture at the Chadmoore Eagles watch party at Chickie’s & Pete’s in South Philly. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The monthly breakfasts did pause for about a year during the pandemic and one Eagles watch party was also nixed, but the club returned stronger than ever. They will have a new hurdle as the Bookbinder bar at Chickie’s & Pete’s will soon be converted to a betting parlor and won’t be able to host a large private party. There’s no certainty of a change of location just yet, but members are hoping something can be put together. 

“I hope that’s true,” said Marra, pausing to look at his son and grandson. “This is what it’s all about.”