Rival Northwest Philly youth-sports programs want to build shared facility

 The Northwest Raiders and Mt. Airy Bantams are collaborating to raise money to build new facility. It would be named after late state Rep. David Richardson, shown here in a Chelten Ave. mural. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

The Northwest Raiders and Mt. Airy Bantams are collaborating to raise money to build new facility. It would be named after late state Rep. David Richardson, shown here in a Chelten Ave. mural. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Faced with aging resources and limited funding, two Northwest Philadelphia youth-sports organizations are teaming up in the hopes of bringing a state-of-the-art multi-purpose athletic facility to West Oak Lane.

The Northwest Raiders Athletic Association of East Germantown and the Mt. Airy Bantams Youth Association are eyeing Awbury Park, at Ardleigh and Haines streets, as a possible home base for programs serving nearly 600 youths.

Earl Morgan, president of the Mt. Airy Bantams, said the idea has been bandied about for a couple years now. Awbury Park is a good spot since it’s large enough for all age groups to share, he noted.

After preliminary discussions with Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ office, Morgan reached out to the other youth organization.

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“We found out that the Northwest Raiders [program] was looking for a home field too,” Morgan said.

From there, the programs came together, discussed sometimes-conflicting visions and created, among other things, a fundraising plan.

“In the beginning, ideas were all over the place,” said Duane Watson, vice president of the Northwest Raiders. “We came to the table to meet a common need.”

Watson said the groups have already formed a joint committee to oversee the prospective project.

Once the field is completed, an executive board including members of both programs will oversee field operations and upkeep, he added.

Naming-rights issue

Among the issues discussed at the table was what the facility would be called.

“We had to come up with a name that was suitable for both groups and the community,” Watson said. “We threw around things like the Raiders-Bantams Field, the Bantams-Raiders Field, but none of them seemed to go over well with the entire committee.”

Then, with one fell swoop, they found unanimous agreement: Call it the David P. Richardson Memorial Field.

Richardson was the area’s renowned and beloved state representative who died from a heart attack in 1995.

“With a field named as a memorial to David Richardson, we are now talking about the importance of community access to the field,” Watson said.

Bass said she supports the effort, which remains in its formative stages.

“We had a conversation with both organizations and we all agreed that we have these programs that have been here for a long time and need a place for our youth to go,” she said.

Existing obstacles

Eric Jones is the Northwest Raiders’ business manager. He said that, ideally, the facility wouldn’t need substantial funding from the city.

He estimated annual upkeep at $3,000, which the organizations could cover from their prospective budgets. However, that cost comes after the estimated $1.2 million needed to build the regulation football/soccer field, concession stands and more (PDF).

While efforts have been made to draw donations from the private sector, that remains an obstacle, especially since the groups would like to complete the project by Aug. 2015.

“Both organizations have been working on various fundraising initiatives,” said Zachariah Hughes, Northwest Raiders treasurer. “We have some traditional fundraisers going on like raffles, cabarets and fish fries.”

Details of their biggest fundraising plan — an Urban Guerilla Orchestra (UGO) benefit concert — are still being worked out. They’ve also reached out to potential benefactors like USA Football and the NFL Foundation, Hughes said.

Wade Brockington, president of the Liberty Youth Athletic Association, said he likes what they’re trying to accomplish.

His league has rented places like the Benjamin L. Johnson Memorial Field, also known at the Germantown Supersite, at a cost of $1,600 a day.

“To obtain those supersites is a process,” said Hughes, noting that rental prices are set by the School District.

“This collaboration will be great for both Northwest communities,” he said, noting that smaller associations would benefit as well. “It has been far too long that these teams have went without a field of their own.”

Editor’s note: The author has played and coached in the Northwest Raiders football program.

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