The Bustleton Bengals Club is one of many sports organizations for boys and girls in the Northeast. The club continues to live out its mission that began in 1956. Past President and parent Vince Tarducci has been volunteering his time with the Bengals since 1997.
“It’s always been about the children from ages 4 to 18,“ Tarducci said. “We try to get them ready for high school years. We try to get them ready to be better citizens within the city of Philadelphia and whatever they do.”
The Bengals interact with several athletic organizations in the Northeast, but one thing that sets this organization apart is something it’s lacking: a gymnasium.
“When [other clubs] play us, we have to use neighboring schools Anne Frank and Baldi,” Tarducci said. “We’re fortunate to have them, but we don’t have any control over the use of those places.”
Tarducci is now the Bengals’ gym committee chairman. Working alongside President Roger Price, the duo hopes to bolster more awareness and support for their mission that has been in the works for the past 10 years. Current Bengals board members have plans to use one of the practice fields to house the new facility. With the secluded location at the corner of Conwell Avenue and President Street, the grounds have local residents somewhat concerned, but the board members have assured that residents living close to the grounds will not be disturbed.
“It seems as though it is the least intrusive location for the neighborhood. Many of the neighbors who live close by even have children who play for our league,” Price said.
Price spent his childhood in Bustleton and still resides in the area. He said he feels the gym initiative is a staple for the future of the Bengals. Without it, he fears the club will be unable to survive among the alternative sports facilities in the area.
“Today, unfortunately, there’s a lot of communities that deteriorate because their second or third generation moves on and out,” he said. “To me this was always the ‘Great Northeast.’ Being a part of Bustleton as a kid, it was always exciting and obviously I’ve never moved. I’ve always loved living here.”
Many other Northeast natives who spent their childhood in the area refuse to let the Bengals down. Chuck Bushbeck is a professional baseball scout currently assigned to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Bushbeck grew up in Mayfair and now spends his spare time giving back to the community that raised him by hosting sports clinics for the clubs’ players and coaches.
“We come up here as part of a service to the community. We know what they do with the kids, we know the integrity of the program and we know what the volunteers give. Having something like this in our community is monumental,” he said.
Those who volunteer their time and money toward the Bengals are doing it for one reason: their children. Nearly every individual involved with the Bengals has a child enrolled in one or more of the club’s athletic programs. Karen Lash has two children who play baseball and soccer and her husband is a volunteer coach. Lash said she feels the organization is an absolute asset to communities near and far.
“I think in the city of Philadelphia every child regardless of where they live in their zip code deserves the same programs and services,” she said, “The next step for us is this wonderful facility.”
Fundraising Director Chris McNicholas is another parent with the club. She has been involved with the Bengals for the past seven years. Today, her efforts go beyond simply watching the sports her children play.
“I was a parent who sat on the sidelines and said these people could always do better and my philosophy was ‘practice what you preach,’ so it was time for me to step up to the plate and help out the organization,” she said.
McNicholas said she is afraid, however, that the volunteers’ efforts, although valiant, are just not going to cut it anymore.
“There’s only so much you can do with fundraising. Basically, it keeps us out of the red. As far as the gym goes, we need to speak to the people who are our community. We need to have the children have a place to go,” she said.
The Bengals continue to hang on thanks to support from the community. Organizations like the Greater Bustleton Civic League have played large roles in fostering the success of this club. With bigger and better facilities overshadowing the club’s dedication, this help will soon fall short of the organization’s needs. Lash said she sees the lack of a gym as a roadblock in the way of the Bengals future.
“People need to know Bustleton is ready to grow,” she said. “We can’t do it without your support.”
The Bengals board members hold meetings every month that are open to the public. The group is attacking its gym project at full speed and is brainstorming more ways to get plans for the new facility off the ground.
Danny Donnelly and Gina Benigno are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Reporting Lab.