Athletic Rec Center

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Billy Penn is highlighting some of Philadelphia’s recreation centers, ranging from Southwest to the Northeast. We’re including spaces that were recently renovated and others that have long lists of needs. We’ve already featured Kingsessing, Happy Hollow and Vare

Walk into Athletic Recreation Center’s lobby and the stars and steps will catch your eye first. The “Reach For The Stars” mural at the North Philadelphia community center points out that taking the smallest step in the right direction sometimes ends up being the biggest step of your life — even if you tip-toe.

The century-old center offers a variety of programs for community members, many of whom have been coming to Athletic for years. It isn’t rare to see grandparents walking through the doors of the center with their grandchildren.

Let’s take a look at what makes Athletic special.

Lobby mural at Athletic Rec Center Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

The specs

Location: 2600 Master St.

Neighborhood: Brewerytown

When it was built: 1914

Size: Sits on 4.8 acres

How many people it serves: 300 to 400 per day

Features include:  Auditorium, boxing gym, computer lab, indoor/outdoor basketball courts, ball fields, sports fields, after school rooms, general meeting room and a pool with a water playground (closed Aug. 11)

Number of employees and volunteers: three full-time staff, six volunteers and 15 Work Ready members for this summer’s programs

Head of the center: Oktavia Cherry

Lobby artwork at Athletic Rec Center Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn


First of all, the rec center’s name isn’t unoriginal — it’s historical. The Philadelphia Athletics played their first amateur baseball games at Athletics Park (formerly known as Jefferson Street Grounds) from the early 1870s to the late 1880s.

When Athletic Rec Center was built in 1914 it was named after the team, which by then had gone pro and relocated to Shibe Park in upper North Philadelphia. The A’s became the first and only American League team in Philly. In 1954 the team was sold off and sent to Kansas City.

Diane Scott — summer camp director and after-school program coordinator — said many people old enough to have gone to an A’s game still talk about the team. The Athletics are even commemorated in the lobby mural, which features two baseball players wearing all-white uniforms and old baseball hats.

Program offerings

Athletic offers many programs during the summer and school year, including an after-school program.

“We try to have a lot of things going on to let them see there’s more in life than just on the corner selling drugs or getting high,” Scott said.

Programs include:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Youth/adult basketball
  • Boxing
  • Baseball
  • Dance
  • Football/flag football
  • Kickball
  • ARC Chess Club
  • Recovery meetings
  • Modeling and fashion
  • Mature mentoring program for teenage girls
  • Theater
  • Soccer
  • Table tennis
  • Summer camp

Walk for Life, a new program at Athletic, encourages new and old neighbors to walk a quarter of a mile with each other Monday and Friday evenings. The program, which begins on Sep. 18 at 6 p.m., will be a way to talk about health and fitness, Cherry said, and provide an opportunity for community members to connect in a meaningful way.

Water playground at Athletic Rec Center Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

What makes Athletic unique

The “longevity of the visitors” is what stood out to Cherry when she joined Athletic this past March. Many visitors have become regular faces in the center after coming in and out for 40 years.

“I’ve never felt this energy, this mix of people, this sense of dedication, this sense of love and caring and concern regarding a center,” Cherry said.

Scott and Carl “Uncle Bo” Sampson — a well known community volunteer — have been a part of the rec center for 20 years, and Joyce Satterwaite, another dedicated after-school staff member, has been there for five.

One cool thing

Fred Jenkins has been the head of the Athletic Boxing Club for about 44 years, and trains 50 to 100 people each year. The gym also holds an impressive record.

“There hasn’t been any other gym in the world that we know of that was able to produce two Olympic fighters in the same year,” said Tracy Jenkins, Fred’s son.

David Reid won a gold medal in the light middleweight class at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Zahir Raheem, a top bantamweight fighter, also went to the games that year, but was eliminated in the second round. They’re both memorialized on posters all over the walls of the boxing gym, among Fred Jenkins’ many other boxing champions.

The 15th annual Lucien Blackwell Amateur Boxing Tournament will take place at Athletic on Oct. 19, 20, and 21. Many amateur fighters will be hoping to prove themselves in the ring for the first time.

Outdoor play area at Athletic Rec Center Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Stuff for kids

The 15 theater kids at Athletic would kill it on Broadway. They put on a show every month from September to June and already have one under their belts this season — the Fire Prevention Play.

Most of the shows are centered on whichever holiday is happening that month: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s, and Easter. Practices are on Fridays, but if there’s a show coming up the kids usually put some more time in at the auditorium.

The room next to the auditorium is used to store props for the shows. The “prop room” and the auditorium — as well as the center’s kitchen, art room, and lobby mural — were renovated by about 140 AEC Cares volunteers on their annual Blitz Build day last May.

A recent grant allowed the Athletic Rec Center kitchen to be completely redone Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

What the rec center needs

“Anything that would support the center we would be grateful for, but we don’t know what [Rebuild] is going to look like right now,” Cherry said. The city has begun the $500 million process of identifying rec centers, playgrounds and libraries that need repairs and updated resources.

In the meantime, the rec center is getting a patio area for lounging, yoga, and gardening through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.