“Hey guys, let’s go. Third base needs to be raked, first based needs to be raked. There’s a lot of work left to do,” Lou DeCree said as he yelled over to the group of seventh graders playing on the nearby tennis courts.
This group of boys worked for the past two hours by picking up leaves in an effort to get the baseball field at the Officer Daniel Boyle Memorial Playground in Somerton ready for the spring season.
It’s spring clean up time and DeCree, the President of Daniel Boyle Athletic Program, is leading the group of coaches and baseball players who have volunteered their time to get the field ready for the upcoming season.
Despite the promised near-60 degree weather and sunshine, 9 a.m on March 12 was a cold day. The wind whipped volunteers as they worked, which made the temperature feel closer to the low 40s. The boys went right back to work to rake the leaves that gathered along the third base line.
“The next group of boys will be coming soon,” DeCree said. “We try to get a different group in every hour and a half. That’s really as long as we can hold their attention anyway.”
DeCree has lead the spring clean up for the last 15 years, ever since he, along with two other men — Joe DeMayo and Lou Sannutti – started the athletic program at the Boyle Rec Center.
“We do this the second Saturday in March,” DeCree said. “This is a Philadelphia park. The city does not have a lot of funds to take care of it so we take it upon ourselves to get this ready. We try to keep it clean for the neighbors across the street.”
DeCree has been volunteering all his life.
“My father did it when I was growing up. I just followed in his footsteps,” DeCree said. “You have to give back to the community. I was fortunate enough to be able to play sports in the community growing up so now it’s time to give back.”
DeCree started coaching when his four kids became involved in community sports. His kids are now grown up but he keeps running the program.
“Someone’s got to do it,” he said.
DeCree has lived in Somerton since 1986. He’s the president of the athletic program at Boyle Rec Center, the athletic director at St. Christopher School, on the board of directors for the Officer Daniel Boyle Scholarship Fund and on the board of directors for the Sgt. Pat McDonald scholarship fund. In addition to all his volunteer work, he owns a trucking and warehousing business, L&M.
“I don’t mind doing it,” DeCree said. “We have lots of help here. If it was me by myself, I would probably get frustrated and leave, but with all this help it makes it a lot easier.”
As president, DeCree has worked hard to make the field a nicer place. The playground now has a double-sided batting cage for players to practice in and a shed that is half snack bar and half storage for equipment.
“Lou’s a big guy in this community,” 12-year-old Jack Raynor said. Raynor is one of the boys who volunteered to clean up the field. “He comes to all of our games. Everybody knows him from showing up to our sports stuff.”
Nick Newvert, 13, knows DeCree from playing baseball in the Boyle program.
“Lou’s a fun guy. He comes and talks to us. He never really gets mad about anything,” Newvert said. Newvert also volunteered to help clean the field.
“Louie is a very gracious and giving individual,” said Dave Wolf, another volunteer. He’s been helping with the program since 1999. “Whatever we need, Louie gets. He’s the face of the organization. He’s like James Garner’s character in the movie The Great Escape.”
When the program started it was just a group of five or six fathers who wanted an alternative place for their kids to play, Wolf said.
Lou Sannutti started the program with DeCree.
“There was a change in philosophy in Somerton so we moved over here and started our program,” Sannutti said.
DeCree, along with Sannutti and DeMayo, decided to name the program after Officer Daniel Boyle, who died in 1991 after serving just a year on the job. The same year the baseball program started in 1997, the playground was being renamed after Officer Daniel Boyle.
“When we found out the playground was being named after Danny, it was a no brainer,” DeCree said. “That’s what it was going to be.”
DeCree, along with the other men, decided that all the uniforms should display Officer Boyle’s badge number, 5459. Boyle was a Somerton resident his whole life.
“People take a lot of pride in wearing the badge,” Sannutti said. “It’s like an honor.
”The program has many sponsors to help support the cost right away. Even though the teams have sponsors, in the beginning, it still wasn’t enough. Sannutti said DeCree put his own money in the bank to keep the group from getting charged.
“I’ve been coaching since I was 18 and I’m 59 now, so for 41 years and I still like it,” DeCree said. “It’s like when athletes say I’ll keep doing it until I don’t like it anymore then I’ll retire. But I still enjoy doing this.”
Megan Paolini and Ian Romano are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.