The Tot Lot is a small park located in the heart of Ridley Park where community members, young and old, gather to play in the park, walk their dogs, and play recreational sports. The park has been there since the beginning of Ridley Park’s existence, but wasn’t named the Tot Lot until the passing of former Mayor, Joseph J. Kilkenny. The park is now officially named the Joseph J. (Bud) Kilkenny Memorial Tot Lot.
However, the Tot Lot wasn't always the home of the Ridley Park Wiffleball league. In its "Pilot Stages", before an organized league was formed, a small group of current members took to the backyards of Ridley Park to play their wiffleball games. Almost every day of the summer, the core group of founders, Dylan Harshaw, Austin Bleacher, Greg Myers, Wayne Shambo, and Chris Durning (just to name a few), would get on their bikes and ride to either Shambo Park, the Kelley's trampoline infested backyard, or commisioner Dylan Harshaw's backyard to play some wiffleball. However, as the group got older, their minds started to grow as well.
During fifth grade, these boys got on their bikes in search of their "field of dreams". No more 30 foot deep fences, crawling under trampolines to chase groundballs, or playing in someone's cement driveway; these boys wanted an actual field to call home. After surveying the area, the boys came across a spot by the little league field at Ridley Lake; however, after talking to the Borough, they found out they wouldn't be able to put up a fence and start their games. It all worked out for the best, though. The boys first missed their dream field located dead center of Ridley Park, the Tot Lot. After seeing the orange mesh fence in place for youth softball, the group crunched some numbers and realized this might be the perfect fit dimensions for a wiffleball field. That day, they went to ACME, bought a bat and ball, and the rest was history.
Starting as nothing formal, the boys made this field their own, and started expanding to new players just by shooting out texts each day, gathering people to play. No set teams, no weekly games, just some pick-up wiffleball. After a couple years of this pick-up 2v2 tournament style of play, where anyone would just show up and play, the boys wanted to try something a little more organized. During my Sophomore year in high school, I (Current Commish. Dylan Harshaw) got 8 teams together, and attempted to make an organized league, with weekly games, playoffs, and a championship.
The first attempt at a season was quite a learning experience. As tenth graders with mainly no ability to drive, it was tough getting everyone to games on time, supplying money for equipment, and ensuring that the league could be finished before summer’s end. Although the season did not finish out to completion, to call it a failure would be absurd. Using the things we had learned, and taking a year off to go back to the old style of play, commissioners Austin Bleacher and myself were ready this time. However, to place all responsibility in the hands of just us would be unfair. If it were not for Eddie Bleacher's statement to myself (much similar to the famous "if you build it they will come" line from Field of Dreams), saying that we would figure it out, people would come out to play, and it would work, there may not have even been the 2016 season that solidified the Ridley Park Wiffleball League as a genuine league.
Coming back stronger than ever in 2016, Austin and I, with extensive help from the rest of the crew including Colin Pollag, planned the mock schedule out weeks in advance to ensure a completed season. Their next plan of attack was to rate every player in the league in order to instill competitiveness in each game (Colin screwed that up a little bit batting .735 with a 0.72 ERA). Following the “draft”, a social media revamp in both the instagram and twitter helped the league grow in popularity, bringing crowds out to weekly games that no one outside of the players even knew happened. It was such a surreal feeling for myself, seeing this dream as a young kid turn into such an amazing thing that involved so many amazing people.
Although it may seem like all sunshine and roses for the RPWL at this point, this was not the case for the 2016 season. The Ridley Park Wiffle Ball was thrown quite the curveball (yeah, even worse than Colin’s Slider…), being stripped of their right to play on the public park. After a few “anonymous” complaints, the Ridley Park Police were forced to inform the league that they must relocate immediately, leaving the endless amount of time, money, and effort spent on the field behind. Although the police did their best to accommodate the league, I tried to stress that the Tot Lot isn’t just a field, it is a home to many across the community and no accommodations could ever replace the memories and relationships built between these foul lines. After an amazing amount of support from our community, and a meeting with Bob Berger, we were told that the lot would remain our home field. This field means so much to me personally and the rest of the group. I was honestly brought to tears upon being told of our needed "relocation". The amount of time and effort the others and I put in to making this an enjoyable escape for kids of all ages was far too much to be overlooked.
To me, it was never really just about playing wiffleball. From age 3, wiffleball has been an integral part of my life. I can vividly remember my dad taking me out into the back yard, and constantly throwing me pitches. As I grew older, I started to pitch as well, and my family would play games in our makeshift field of a backyard. It was not until fifth grade that the passion really started to develop. Over the past 6-7 years, I personally have put an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and money into that field. Whether it was pitching away my stress, or just breaking out a lawn chair and just eating some sunflower seeds at home plate in the middle of the night, I could not even estimate the amount of time I’ve spent at the lot. In addition to my time, the amount of money and energy I have put into preparing the field for games, fixing it up after storms, and making other necessary additions is also a considerable amount. The lot has always been a place for me to relieve my stress and not worry about anything but wiffleball and having a good time with some great people. As much as I appreciate the accommodations that the Ridley Park Police tried to make in helping us relocate; However, The Lot is more than just a field, it is a home and an escape for me personally, and also for many other kids. No relocation could possibly replace the memories and relationships built at the Totlot. Looking towards the future of this league, I invite all who wish to play, as I promise you’ll build relationships in this group that will never break apart. As I sit and reflect on the last 8 years of this “league”, I’ve come to the realization that there aren’t many experiences I would trade to be a part of this group of amazing people The league has taught me things about humility, brotherhood, and that with enough work and dedication, anyone can start a movement.
Sincerely the commish,