Taney is changing the way Philadelphia looks at youth sports

Hundreds of Philadelphians gathered in LOVE Park Sunday to welcome home the Taney Dragons from the Little League World Series. Credit: Charles Mostoller. Hundreds of Philadelphians gathered in LOVE Park Sunday to welcome home the Taney Dragons from the Little League World Series. Credit: Charles Mostoller.

It’s been almost six years since Philadelphia fans celebrated a World Series title with a parade down Broad Street.

It was a special day back then, because it signified that Philadelphians were champions again.

When the conquering heros of Taney Little League are honored with a similar celebration Wednesday afternoon, the recognition won’t be for their acquisition of hardware. It will be for the way the changed the way people think of our city.

“It was part of the hope going into the summer,” Taney head coach Alex Rise said, “to demonstrate that urban kids, given the opportunity to succeed in sports or anything, that they can succeed like any other kid — a suburban counter part. That was one of the hopes and goals, to draw attention to kids from the inner city. They are an incredible resource. Our hope is that this excitement, fervor, does manifest itself in revitalizing baseball in the city.”

There aren’t too many places for a kid to play ball in Philadelphia right now. Just ask the dedicated coaches and parents from the Taney Organization. From renting fields to renting airport hangers, they pull off a juggling act that ultimately allows talented kids to play the game their suburban counterparts play so easily in a rural setting.

“I was often the score keeper for the team,” a proud Taney mom, Quyen Shanahan recalled. “With Little League rules the scorekeeper is isolated from everybody and you have to sit with the other teams scorekeepers and league officials. And I am talking to other people who didn’t know us since it was just our second year as a Little League charter. They asked us where our field is, and we really don’t have a field. I told them that we rent an empty hanger in the airport and put up a net to practice in the winter and they were all really amazed.”

Coach Rice said the team plays on Park and Rec fields all over the city but that often the city fields leave “a little bit to be desired.”

“We don’t have a home field,” Rice said. “Most of our permits are up by the end of May and putting together a competitive tournament team has always been an enormous challenge.”

But somehow, someway they did it. They won districts, they won the Mid-Atlantic Regional. And they came two wins from advancing to the Little League World Championship team.

Taney is now looking to set a groundwork. The 2014 team is the first one ever from Philadelphia to make it this far. And they hope it won’t be another 60-year wait before a team from the city does it again.

“It’s going to have to come financially and also through organized baseball,” Rice said “The institutions in place need to genuinely make an effort to invest in the kids in the city. They can’t do it when kids are in high school, it has to be done when they are in grade school.”

Shanahan added: “Now that we have some peoples’ attention it may be an easier conversation.”

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