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Andre Reed Park proposal: Meeting served as a nice pep rally, but must be followed by action for the kids | Keith Groller

An artist's rendering of what Andre Reed Park would look after improvements are made to the park to add new fields and practice facilities for Dieruff High School.
An artist’s rendering of what Andre Reed Park would look after improvements are made to the park to add new fields and practice facilities for Dieruff High School.

Sometime in the near future, Executive Education Academy Charter School is going to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its ready-to-go $7 million field house and athletic center. It’s a 28,000-square foot facility made possible with a partnership with LVHN and it has four basketball courts and is expected to have retractable batting cages for softball and baseball among other things.

Executive CEO Robert Lysek has said that once the new building is opened, his focus will be on building a new football stadium for the school.

Sometime later this year, Allentown Central Catholic is expected to announce plans for its own state-of-the-art athletic complex for its outdoor teams.

Meanwhile, Allentown School District and city officials held a meeting at Dieruff on Tuesday night to discuss plans for a new practice facility at Andre Reed Park, formerly known as Irving Park, across the street from the school. The plans call for new baseball, softball and football/soccer fields, as well as other amenities for spectators.

What does Executive and Central Catholic’s plans have to do with Dieruff’s?

Because Dieruff coaches and administrators constantly worry about losing student-athletes to charter and private schools.

And, it’s not just Dieruff either. After a winless 2023 season, Allen football coach Joel Rupp, a Dieruff alum, said: “That’s one thing I’m going to be doing; cracking down on the illegal recruiting that has been going on. I am working on building strong bonds with the players that are here, so they will be telling me what’s going on.”

The “R” word wasn’t spoken at Tuesday’s meeting, but losing kids to other schools is an underlying concern. Kids want to play for winners, and they want to play at schools where they know people care and want the best for them and will do whatever it takes to help them. A quality education and safety are essential, but kids and the parents of athletes look for more. They look for places that can best position themselves for the next level and quality facilities are an important part of the equation.

Remember, too, that Allentown has a transient population where many families have moved in from New York or New Jersey and they don’t have longstanding ties to the city or a particular school. They don’t know about Ross Moore, the legendary Dieruff athlete who died recently or why the gyms at Allen and Dieruff are named for Milo Sewards or Dick Schmidt and the courts are named for John Donmoyer and Linda Cruttenden. Tradition means little to them because most of them haven’t been here long.

That’s why the meeting at Dieruff was important because it was about the present and future and not the past.

The packed cafeteria at Dieruff was filled with Allentown and ASD officials, Dieruff coaches, athletes, teachers, alumni, St. Luke’s University Health Network officials and state representatives and it had the feel of a pep rally. Lots of fiery speeches were given. Lots of rallying-the-troops and circle-the-wagons talk was expressed.

The problems of the current situation were amplified. The negatives of having students get on buses — buses that often don’t arrive on time — to get to practices was mentioned often. And the fact that both Keck Park, where the Dieruff football team practices, and Andre Reed Park where the baseball team practices and plays, are often filled with trash, dog poop, marijuana smells and even motorcycles driving on the field were also brought out in emotional presentations.

“This park is our home field, and when you use the word home there’s a sense of security and safety that comes with that,” JV baseball coach and former Dieruff athlete Seth Stoudt said. “And unfortunately, we can’t host anything here without safety being a major concern. There are no facilities. There are no bathrooms that are accessible. There are no water fountains at the park … pretty basic stuff that will keep our athletes in good shape and in good form.”

Stoudt lives on East Tilghman Street, which is the southern boundary of the park and said: “My kids and me are in the park daily and there’s not a time when you can walk out there and not have to pick up trash. Barry Robb [another park neighbor] is a warrior for this park and he’s out there every day helping kids and picking up the trash. That’s the type of effort we need from absolutely everyone.”

JoAnne Hunsicker, another Dieruff alum and assistant cheer coach, said the current situation is not fair to the track team because they have no track of their own. “It’s not fair to these kids. It’s a 25-minute drive to [J. Birney Crum Stadium] and then they practice and have another drive back and then they start their school work. It’s not fair. And the field [at Andre Reed Park] is unsafe. Even though it’s not as bad as the old field where the football team used to practice on, it’s not a safe field. So a turf field would definitely help.”

Assistant principal David Reimschussel said having a practice facility just outside the school would have multiple benefits.

“It would increase visibility for our athletics program on a much safer field and it would give students more time in their day when they’re not being bused to other facilities,” he said. “They would have more time for homework, more time for the tutoring we offer after school instead of being on a bus. And it would give our LCTI students who do sports a better opportunity because they wouldn’t have to be on a bus to get back to school and then take another bus to another facility.

“Plus, our sports medicine personnel wouldn’t have to transport all of our equipment over to another facility and then get it back here. Everything would be here in a centralized place so they could respond as situations occur.”

Dieruff football coach Dave Lutte said his program has been the one most negatively affected by not having a safe practice facility within walking distance of the school.

“For the last couple of years, the two main buzzwords are equity and equality and how do we have equity and equality when we have no facilities to provide for our kids?” Lutte said. “We go to a public park where we’ve sustained $11,000 worth of damage that every other school has within safe confines. But ours has been destroyed because we have no safe place to store it.

“One of the most hurtful things to me is when we go to an away game and they see what others have and they say to me ‘Coach, why can’t we have this?’ when they see the other team’s stadium, facilities and locker room,” Lutte added. “And they know the next day they’re going to have to get back on a bus and go somewhere that’s not really suitable. We’re not equal to the other 17 teams in our league, including William Allen, which is across the city. We are not on par with the school within our own city. It needs to change.”

They were emotional presentations and powerful words that had most of the people in the room nodding in agreement.

But now what?

Change is much easier to talk about than implement. Just ask people who made a long list of New Year’s resolutions if they are still following through on those resolutions. Or listen to a politician’s promises on the campaign trail and then circle back once they are in office to see if those promises are kept.

Right now, the proposed facility for Andre Reed Park looks good on paper. But there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. There are city restrictions, mandates and funding shortages to overcome. Everyone knows the city and district are strapped for cash. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s a balance that needs to be struck that will allow the school district to use part of the park for Dieruff teams, and for it also to have public access, especially on the tennis courts, which are now used for pickleball, the pool area, and the basketball courts that have been a focal point of the park for decades.

So, it won’t be easy, but inaction and keeping the status quo is not an option for people who care about the district and its future.

Allen and Dieruff sports teams have been struggling for years, and some have suggested going back to one high school as was the case until 1959. or leaving the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

Even the Canaries boys basketball program, which has won its share of league and district titles over the years and produced an NBA draft pick in Tyrese Martin, is coming off a 2-20 season and an 0-16 mark in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

While having a successful athletic program may not be the No. 1 goal of any district, winning teams create participation, pride and a sense of belonging, which can foster better academics and an improved culture.

The people who filled the meeting on Tuesday night believe in the importance of athletics. They handed their level of enthusiasm and passion off to those in charge. Now it’s up to the city and school district to take the ball and run with it.

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