Lighthouse Boys Soccer Club
Back in 1897, Esther Kelly Bradford established the Lighthouse Boys Club, which offered soccer and other sports and activities for youths in the neighborhood near Front Street and Erie Avenue and beyond.
A lot has changed in 113 years, but the Lighthouse Soccer Club continues to offer plenty of opportunities for young people.
Oldtimers will remember that Lighthouse offered sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming, diving, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, floor hockey and tennis.
The club also had activities like darts, billiards, chess, checkers and an orchestra.
“They had just about everything you wanted,” said Walter Bahr, who went on to become a legendary soccer player and coach.
Bahr, who also played baseball and saxophone in the orchestra, recalled that membership was a mere $1 a year, a fee that included uniforms. Billiards players paid 2 cents per half-hour.
Soccer, though, has always been the premier activity at Lighthouse. In Bahr’s era, some 40 teams played the sport.
“It was a soccer hotbed,” he said. “It was a big part of my life. I still have friends I knew from Lighthouse.”
Lighthouse boasted some of the most successful teams in the nation for years. The under-19 team won the James P. McGuire Cup as national champions in 1938, 1948, 1949, 1957 and 1967.
Many of the former players were standouts in high school, and over the years went on to experience soccer glory. Bahr, for instance, played in the Olympics and was captain of the U.S. national team that stunned England, 1-0, in the 1950 World Cup. He had an assist on the only goal.
Looking back, Bahr believes the discipline instilled in the players by the coaches was a big part of the success. “If you played for Lighthouse, your shirt was tucked in, your socks were pulled up and you watched your language,” he said.
Some of those talented players joined professional teams and eventually were inducted into the United States Soccer Hall of Fame, and a bunch of them went on to coach at high levels. The group includes college coaches Bahr (Temple, Penn State), Hugh McInaw (Temple), Jack Dunn (St. Joseph’s), Jack Ruggero (St. Joseph’s), Lew Meehl (Textile, Drexel) and Dave MacWilliams (Temple). Until the mid-1980s, Lighthouse soccer teams continued to play at their original location.
By the early 1990s, the program had moved to the Bavarian Club on Haldeman Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia and played under the Bayern name.
After that site was converted to residential housing, the club in 1999 negotiated a 25-year lease with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to take over the wooded ground at Southampton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard.
Today, it’s a first-class facility. Lighthouse has 10 travel teams for boys and seven for girls, ranging from under-8 to under-18. In all, about 300 young people play. They mostly come from the Northeast and Bucks and Montgomery counties. Several of the teams are highly competitive and play year round.
The teams play in various leagues, and the opponents’ coaches and fans recognize the name. “Everybody knows who Lighthouse is,” said Sammy Lee, president of the club for the last three years. “It’s such a proud history and tradition.”
Lighthouse also offers an in-house program. This fall, more than 100 kids age 3-8 took part. The emphasis is on having fun and developing skills. In addition, Lighthouse sponsors The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer) for children 8-19 with autism and other disabilities.
The club hosts clinics and offers training sessions. One of the highlights of the year is an affordable, weeklong summer camp that draws up to 300 kids.
Just as back in the day, the Lighthouse coaching staffs are top notch. Among the coaches is Pat Morris, a former Lighthouse player who has gone to enjoy a great career with the KiXX.
The mission has always been, “Take care of kids.” Coaches preach the same philosophy as they always have at Lighthouse.
“We not only teach the kids how to play, but to have fun while they’re playing,” Lee said.
Dozens of current and former Lighthouse players and coaches planned to be in attendance as the club was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
“We’re thrilled,” Lee said. “It’s unbelievable to be included with the greats in Philadelphia sports history, it really is. It’s a very proud time for anybody who put on the Lighthouse uniform.”