By John Canning
Over 200 Northsiders helped construct a new KaBOOM! playground outside of John Morrow Elementary in Brighton Heights during the first part of November. Other than community leaders and students from the immediate neighborhood along with students, parents, teachers and fellow neighbors were there to work on the project for many hours, moving tons of mulch, building and installing playground equipment. Thanks to all.
While shoveling my share of mulch (a tiny amount compared to the amount moved by the Perry High Jr. ROTC students), my thoughts went back over 50 years to a similar event. In the early 1950’s, the Little League baseball rage hit the Northside. It landed in Brighton Heights with the creation of the Brighton Heights Athletic Association (BHAA). My dad and uncle “Bun” Mehrman along with Clyde Saures, Jack Stack and Gerry Ryan met regularly to form the organization. Today the BHAA operates on the fine fields at the top of Benton Avenue. In our days we knew that site as Goat Hill.
The two baseball diamonds in those early years were located at two sites: Odd Fellow’s and Marmaduke fields. The building now housing the upper grades of John Morrow school formerly Rooney Middle School was built by the Independent Order of Oddfellows as a home for youngsters who had lost one or both parents. We all knew it as the Oddfellow’s Home. Most of those residents attended John Morrow and Oliver High. For several years there were enough residents to field their own team in the BHAA Little League. In the early ‘50’s the coaches and players of the BHAA would meet every spring to get the field into playing shape. We would rake, carry off buckets of stones, try to spread grass seed and help build or repair the backstop and dugouts. It was, in many ways, although with fewer participants, akin to the a community efforts in the recent KaBOOM! event.
The Oddfellow’s Home became a school. The home for the widows of Oddfellow members on McClure Avenue eventually became a senior citizen center. Building and land uses change over time, but the spirit of neighbors working together to make life better for the youngsters in their communities remains. While shoveling, carrying and raking mulch at the new playground, I could imagine those folks who created the BHAA decades ago looking on with happiness at such a communal effort.