John Canning: Parks and fields sources of great memories


Koray, a 4th grade student at Allegheny Traditional Academy, lives in East Allegheny/Historic Deutschtown. He truly enjoys dogs. If our paths cross in the mornings when Koray is headed to school, he always takes over walking one of our dogs. Koray is bi-lingual and talks to his Mom in Turkish; they are from the Anatolian Plain in Central Turkey.

Of course at school and with us, including the dogs, Korey converses in English. Our dogs only know English! Thinking that a lad with roots in Turkey might be drawn to playing soccer, I asked Koray if he was into one of the neighborhood soccer programs. The answer was a definite no. This year he is playing baseball for one of the Little League teams of the Brighton Heights Athletic Association.

BHAA has been around since I was about Koray’s age. In the late 40s, my dad, my uncle, "Bunny” Mehrman, Jack Stack, Clyde Sauers, Gerry Ryan and several of their friends were deeply involved in organizing the BHAA.

From weekly meetings at Bill Crawford’s Dairy Store on Brighton Road, plans for the creation of two ball fields emerged: Odd Fellows Field, next to the Odd Fellows Home (now Rooney Middle School) and Marmaduke Field, behind Miller’s Cafe on California Avenue.

My days were somewhat limited in the BHAA. It is summed up easily by saying I was always the second string right fielder on the Brighton Juniors and, later on, the Brighton Communitry Club team. Since those years the BHAA has moved to much more elaborate "digs" with John Merry Field up on the crest of Benton Avenue.

In my day, Johnny Merry, after whom the fields are named, was one terrific pitcher. Sadly a tragic accident kept him from going on to one of the Pirates’ field clubs. John Merry took full advantage of the BHAA program. He had some great summers. I hope Koray has similar good times as he plays for one of the BHAA’s teams this summer.
           We are moving into that time of the year when there are so many sports and summer activities for Northside youngsters. Last month’s Northside Chronicle was filled with these options. However, such was not the case when the Northside was Allegheny City.

It was this dearth of activities for youngsters that motivated Mary Junkin Cowley to organize a multitude of programs for children in almost every neighborhood school yard. In the early years of the 20th century, Cowley (after whom Cowley Elementary School and Cowley Field were named), was similar to the founders of the BHAA. She and they were committed to provide a variety of outdoor summer programs for Northside youth.

A collection of several annual reports of Cowley’s Playground taskforce is found in the Allegheny City Room of the Allegheny Branch of the Carnegie Library. Scattered throughout these reports are terrific pictures of many of each summer’s activities in almost every school yard and playground on the Northside. When you recognize the breadth of these annual programs you appreciate the significance of folks like Mary J. Cowley.

She, in her day, and the BHAA organization, CitiParks, Urban Impact and other church and community organizations of the present day, shared a common concern for the quality of life for Northside youngsters. Koray as well as hundreds of other Northside youngsters will benefit from the many options that are available this summer.

Northside Chronicle Town Hall Subscription