Updated 4:30 p.m.
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, Vare, Athletic, Martin Luther King Older Adult Center and Olney Rec.
In lower Northeast Philadelphia, Vogt Recreation Center sits on a fairly large piece of land. The outdoor area is made up of several fields, playing courts and a large pool.
The building, nestled at the intersection of Cottage Street and Unruh Avenue, houses a variety of programs for community members of all ages.
In November, Vogt Rec was named as one of 61 proposed sites for the first round of Rebuild, the City of Philadelphia’s $500 million initiative to refresh and renovate neighborhood parks, recreation centers, playgrounds, and libraries.
Here’s a look at what makes Vogt Rec vital to its neighborhood.
Location: 6700 Cottage Street
When it was built: 1965
Size: Sits on 14.8 acres
How many people it serves: About 250 people a day
Features include: A pool, batting cage, outdoor hockey court, two basketball courts, two tennis courts, three sports fields and eight ballfields
Number of employees and volunteers: Four employees
Head of the center: George Kilcullen
Per facility supervisor George Kilcullen, namesake Joseph Vogt lived in the community and was very involved at the center.
“Vogt Rec Center has always been a cog in this neighborhood,” said Kilcullen.
The center is also a prominent location for Play Philly, a program that fights childhood obesity through active play opportunities. Councilman Bobby Henon of Philadelphia’s 6th District, which includes Tacony, brought the program to Vogt in 2013 and continues to participate in events there.
The center’s staff works closely with the Vogt Community Association, an organization in charge of several sports programs, including cheerleading, softball, baseball and indoor basketball.
The rec staff and members of Vogt CA manage indoor basketball together.
Other activity programs at Vogt include:
- boys softball
- indoor and outdoor soccer
- after school program (3 to 6 p.m.)
- arts and crafts
- Girl Scouts
- tot rec
- aqua Zumba
- senior program (waiting list)
- Bingo (October to May on the second friday of the month)
- movie night (June to September)
- summer day camp
When the center’s programs fill up, which they often do, Kilcullen said, he and the staff refer people to other rec centers in the area that might be able to accommodate them, like Disston Rec or Roosevelt Playground.
“The whole meaning behind recreation is to help anyway we can,” Kilcullen said.
What makes Vogt Rec unique
Thanks to the huge variety of programs for children, teens, adults and seniors, this rec center gets busy.
The gym sees close to 1,000 people on weekends from December to March just to play basketball. From the parents cheering their kids on in the stands to the young athletes doing their best to shoot baskets, the courts are packed for back-to-back games on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Another popular (albeit much smaller) program is adult ceramics. Classes are led by Carol Piscik on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Piscik uses her three decades of experience to guide groups of 10 or so people in shaping clay and glazing fired pieces.
During warm weather, the center’s pool is a main attraction. The Aqua Zumba classes have a big following, and many residents just come by to cool off.
“We’re one of the largest, busiest and most frequented pools,” Kilcullen said.
One cool thing
The girls in Vogt CA’s cheerleading program, which runs from September to May, enrolls more than a hundred girls aged 5 to 18 years each year. Per cheerleader director Katie Carlson, the girls are split into six “Vogt Devils” teams, including two select groups — the Vogt Flames and the Vogt Fire — that require tryouts to join.
The teams compete all over the area, and participate annually in a national championship in Florida. They also regularly cheer at selected basketball games.
When they have pep rallies, Kilcullen said, “This gym [is] filled with hundreds of people watching cheerleaders.”
Stuff for kids
The tot rec program at the center is for 3- and 4-year-olds, and runs from September to May, like a preschool might. The toddler activities are an important part of what Vogt provides.
“This community would never stand for not having this program,” Kilcullen said.
Cindy Arliga and Lisa Batschlet are the staffers tasked with overseeing the little ones, a group that ranges from around 17 to 20 kids. Their classroom is colorful and full of things to interest young people. Arts and crafts hang from the wall, rows of books sit on shelves, miniature cubbies overflow with toys, and miniature-sized chairs and desks share the space with open rugs available for play.
The center has been hosting tot rec for about 18 years. It went through a period of being dormant for a few years, Kilcullen said, but then Batschlet, a lead teacher who has been there for 10 years, stepped up and revitalized the program.
“Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles have come through this program,”Kilcullen said. “There’s a woman who says she went here, and her kids now go here.”
What the rec center needs
The center is programmed pretty well, Kilcullen said, but it could use some physical renovation. Specifically: new floors, roof work and bigger, modernized bathrooms.
“Other than that, I think we’re better off than a lot of other facilities,” Kilcullen said.
Shannon Clark, assistant recreation leader, said what the building needs most is a day of good cleaning. “Lock the doors,” she said, “and bring in a machine to dust, vacuum and sanitize everything, and it’ll sparkle.”