More & Better Fields Urged at Mamk School & Village Boards

by Joan R. Simon and Judy Silberstein

(October 12, 2006) Tuesday was “turf” night at both the Mamaroneck School Board and the Village of Mamaroneck Board, as community members lobbied both groups for more and better fields, including installation of artificial turf throughout Larchmont and Mamaroneck. Fourteen out of 15 speakers at the School Board meeting on October 9 spoke with passion about the need for greater quality and quantity of fields. An additional half-dozen speakers plus an equal number of “silent supporters” were at the Village Board to make the same points.

At the School Board

Speaking first, because they had to leave for practice at 8:30 pm on a rented field in White Plains, members of a 9th grade travel soccer team told the Board they had to drive 20 minutes on a school night to another community because nothing was available to them in Larchmont. Only 5 of the 16 team members were able to make the practice.

Larchmont parent Suzanne Despins with members of a 9th grade travel soccer team who spoke first at the Mamaroneck School Board meeting -- and then rushed to an 8:30 practice on a rented field in White Plains, the only time and space available to them.

Their coach, Josh Rubenstein, said, “The field situation has really been horrendous,” and his sentiments were echoed by other parents and coaches, who described the fields as “a disgrace,” “in miserable condition,” and “probably the worst field situation in the tri-state area.” There were further complaints about restrictions on fields because of overuse and rain, practices on cement, and sharing fields with other teams. One example given was 10 teams all using Memorial Field in the Town of Mamaroneck at the same time. Barry Silverstein joked that while he was the travel soccer “field master” with the job of assigning fields, there was “no way you can ‘master’ the situation.”

But Mr. Silverstein also stressed, “We’re all here to help, not to cause problems,” and other speakers agreed. Blythe Hamer, a mother of three sports-playing children and a spokesperson for Fields for Kids, said the group not only supported the school board, but also would help by raising money (see: “Fields for Kids” Takes its Case to Larchmont Board). Over the weekend, the group handed out 1200 flyers and emailed 2000 more to parents telling them about the organization’s goals.

field hockey team
On Thursday, the MHS varsity girls field hockey team used tarps, garbage cans, desks and old tires in an attempt to keep the Flint Park field playable for Friday's game against Putnam Valley. Photo captured by goalie Raquel Lividini on her cell phone.

Underlying the discussion was the School Board’s earlier proposal to move the Kemper monument and reconfigure the Kemper Park in order to make room for a second playing field at the high school (see: Court of Appeals Backs School Board on Kemper Park). While some of the speakers said they “didn’t want to get into” the Kemper issue, others spoke directly about the merits of the plan and urged the Board to move forward. “The residents are getting impatient,” Lori Brandon said, now that the litigation is over and the school board is free to act. In a letter read to the board, Bob Garry, founder of Larchmont-Mamaroneck Youth Lacrosse, said he wanted to “incite a sense of urgency.” Ted Sobel, the father of three children in the district, added, “I urge the board to take a leadership role,” as the “only entity that unifies the entire community.”

Superintendent Paul Fried told the audience that the Board would hold a special study session to further explore the school district’s options, but did not specify when that would be. “ We will publicize the meeting widely and hope for a wide range of input from the community at this meeting,” he said. “We strongly believe the children in the communities of Mamaroneck and Larchmont need more and better fields.”

At the Village of Mamaroneck Board

Across town, the Village of Mamaroneck’s Board was also discussing the field situation on Tuesday night and hearing pleas from the Jim Hanley, president of Fields for Kids, to “become part of the solution” and to move forward with potential remedies “rather than to exacerbate the problem.”

There appeared to be unanimity on the need for field development. Having read fliers and ads from Fields for Kids, Trustee Joe Angilletta opened the topic saying the group had “hit the nail” and that “maybe it is time to take a multi-municipal, multi-school step forward” that would include turf fields in all three municipalities and the high schools in both Mamaroneck and Rye Neck. Trustee Bill Paonessa reported he was scheduled to meet with Westchester County officials next week to discuss the possibility of securing funds through the Legacy Program to install turf at Joe Lanza Field, where night lighting is already available. Trustee Tom Murphy concurred that “turf is the way to go” and Mayor Phil Trifiletti urged all to get involved – both to improve field opportunities and to eliminate conflict over the Kemper Memorial Park.

In addition to turfing Joe Lanza field, Mr. Hanley suggested opening Harbor Island to “stick games” (such as field hockey and lacrosse) that are currently prohibited; moving the Harbor Island tennis courts near the water treatment plant to make room for more fields and going forward with plans approved in 2002 to develop two fields at the former leaf collection site on Taylor Lane (in the Rye Neck area of Mamaroneck Village). Carlo Reca, a former member of the Mamaroneck Recreation Committee, argued forcefully for going ahead with the Taylor Lane fields. “We have to take the bull by the horns and resolve this quickly," he said. Politics have been getting in the way, said Mike Chiapparelli, a fifty-year resident of Mamaroneck and a long-term teacher and coach at Mamaroneck High School. “We’re here for kids,” he reminded everyone.

Though everyone agreed with the coach, there was less unanimity over Kemper Park and the Mamaroneck Village Board’s September 11 resolution to retain the law firm of Reed Smith, pro bono, to prevent the Mamaroneck School Board from modifying the park. (See: Mamk Village Prepares to Sue School Board Over Kemper Park.)

More litigation, argued Mr. Hanley (and others), would require the school district “to defend itself, using precious tax-payer dollars that would be better spent providing new fields for our kids.”

Mayor Trifiletti deflected further questions about the status of the resolution, saying it had not yet been engaged. “I had some issues with the proposed retainer language,” said Mamaroneck Village Attorney Lino Sciarretta, reached the next day for further explanation. He added, “The mayor made it clear to me and to the public last night that the Board would rather have this resolved without litigation.”

Indeed, the Tuesday night conversation over fields ended with the board members and Field for Kids representatives agreeing to participate in a meeting, open to the public and tentatively set for November 15, to discuss next steps for moving forward on the many ideas proposed. Village of Mamaroneck would be the host and invitations would go out to superintendents and boards of both school districts, municipal leaders from Mamaroneck Town and Larchmont Village, heads of all the sports leagues, and directors of the Harbor Island and Flint Park conservancies.