Youth Sports

FDR Park Plan responds to the needs of youth sports teams

by Grace Romo on November 14, 2023

Philly’s young athletes need fields.

Time and again, playable fields top the list of resources that Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Youth Sports Ambassadors say they need to continue the volunteer work that fills their limited spare time between work, family, and other obligations.

The earliest planning days of the FDR Park Plan included extensive community engagement. Those involved made it clear: in order for the Conservancy to live up to its mission of creating and maintaining an equitable park system for everyone, FDR would need to do a better job at serving Philly’s youth sports teams.

There is only one regulation-size turf field in the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation system for the 21,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 18 living below South Street. Coaches look for any and all space for their athletes to play and practice. They often need to make last-minute schedule changes and frequently play on surfaces that don’t support kids’ needs.

Bobbie King, a South Philly Sigma Sharks coach whose grandson plays u12 football, told the Conservancy during a summer 2023 virtual roundtable that a lot of the fields she encounters don’t have lines, making it hard for first-time players to understand basic concepts like yardage.

“Lack of suitable space, especially soccer fields, is one of the greatest limitations to our ability to grow as a program,” said Amos Huron of the Anderson Monarchs. “The demand for free, high-quality youth soccer programs such as the ones we offer is very high. However, we are limited in the number of developmental programs as well as travel teams that we can sponsor, due to our inability to secure safe, maintained, regulation soccer fields within the South Philadelphia area that most of our families come from.”

Without access to reliable, quality fields, the Youth Sports Ambassadors — a representative group of coaches from all over Philadelphia — can’t guarantee kids a consistent and safe place to play. 

FDR Park’s 348 acres currently have just two non-regulation soccer fields that are so prone to flooding that even mild rainfall leaves the playing surfaces soaked and unusable for days at a time.

It’s a problem that affects fields citywide.

“Often, rain, or the aftermath of rain, results in us having to move our practices from the baseball field at Marian Anderson to the gym or another indoor space,” added Huron. “This can have a serious domino effect, displacing other programs or forcing us to cancel completely.”

Enter the FDR Park Plan. With 12 new multi-purpose fields that will be elevated out of the floodplain and made from performance turf, they’ll be optimized to accommodate several games in a row and designed to mitigate the effects of flooding and climate change. More importantly, these fields are made with all-natural materials — not Astro Turf — that pose no known health risk.

These 12 fields — along with eight basketball courts, 10 tennis courts, and six baseball and softball fields — are the result of an extensive, ongoing engagement process to ensure the transformed FDR Park has space for everyone. These fields account for just 12% of the park’s land while creating opportunities for thousands of kids. 

“It’s an equity issue,” said Maura McCarthy, Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Executive Director. “Equity is a safe and sustainable place for all kids to play, and ensuring their recreation options aren’t limited by a lack of usable fields. Equity is providing community resources to be used and shared among everyone with a stake in this green oasis.”