In South Philly, the dudes abide

Inside St. Monica Parish's gym, at 16th and Shunk streets, you hear a barrage of "thatta boys" and "good jobs" echoing as 40 boys play Wiffle ball with their fathers, grandfathers and assorted church members. It's "Fathers and Sons," a weekly parish tradition that's gone on since 1956 — and this week's crowd is on the small side.

Generally, about 100 boys participate on Friday nights during the school year, said Michael Grasso, a member since 1976. "There are about 100 less kids roaming the street on a Friday night," he said.

Grasso came into Fathers and Sons as a boy and now brings his sons Joseph, 10, and Michael, 7, to the program to learn values like camaraderie, sportsmanship, respect and good, moral character. "It feels good to pass along that tradition that I was able to feel with my father," he said, "and teach my kids the same sort of things my dad taught me."

The weekly program includes organized sports, a meal and prayer time, plus parties for the holidays. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the games start at 7. They can go as late as midnight.

Mike Pherme brings his two boys, Niko, 6, and Santino, 4. "I can't wait to come here," he said. "It's like four or five hours with them. It's more fun than I ever could expect."

Vincent Angiolillo has raised two sons in the program, Vincent Jr., now 20, and Andrew, 15. "Fathers and Sons allows you to enjoy your sons from the caterpillar stage to the butterfly stage, with you being their cocoon in between," he said. "The joy is when you get to see them fly away."