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Lower Manhattan’s baseball, football and other kids teams must apply to the city every year for hourly use of eight coveted ball fields at East River Park. While some of the leagues’ permits are grandfathered from years past, thereby enabling the leagues to hold onto allotted field time from season to season, local coaches and league officials contend they still struggle to schedule games and scrimmages due to an inefficient permitting system and a hogging of the fields by adult leagues.
The L.E.S. Warriors, a youth football league, is forced to trek to Randall’s Island for its home games, since the group lacks turf time in East River Park.
“It’s not fair,” said Trenton Turner, president of the Lower East Side Athletic Corp., the league’s mother company. Gone are the days, Turner said, when a group of children could pick up a game of tag football in the eastside park, as he did with his friends growing up.
“Those parks are [supposed to be] for the kids in their community, and the corporations are eating up the time,” said Turner.
The NYC Parks Department, which manages the permitting system for use of the East River Park ball fields, is vowing to rectify the situation. Come next fall, all youth league permit requests will be fulfilled first, according to Parks Department Spokesperson Phil Abramson. Last year 60 percent of East River Park permits went to adult programs.
“We’re formalizing the longstanding practice that all youth league applications receive permits before the adult leagues, since there has been a high demand for those fields,” said Abramson.
The Department’s new plan will be finalized in late February, which gives Department officials time to make revisions to its current proposal after reviewing testimonies from a citywide hearing held last Thursday, Jan. 26 in Chelsea.
Downtown Little League, a youth baseball league, had permits for only one day a week during its 15-week season last spring, according to the league’s president, Bill Martino. As a result, practices weren’t long enough, he said, and the league was forced to cut back on games.
“Last year, we had way too many practices on weeknights. It probably in retrospect was an unsafe situation,” said Martino, who testified at the hearing. “[The adult leagues] shouldn’t be allowed to be there,” said Martino. “They’re taking the fields away from the children.”
NYC Financial Services Softball league and a few other adult leagues couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.
Warren Street resident Jed Weissberg, whose two children belong to Downtown Little League, said practice at the Battery Park City ball fields runs late in the evenings because the fields are overcrowded with teams.
“My ten-year-old son was practicing up until 8 or 9 o’clock on a weeknight,” said Weissberg. “That’s pretty late when you want to get him in bed by 8:30.”
Nearly half of the East River Park field permitted to the Downtown Giants is used up by an adult flag football league on three weekends in the heart of the Giant’s fall season, according to Carl Frye, the league’s executive director.
“This is our only home game field, and we use every minute of daylight while playing up to five full games per day,” Frye said.
Participation in the Downtown Giants is an integral part of the lives of many local youths such as Liz Halbert’s eleven- and nine-year old sons.
“It increases their confidence, their physical activity, and makes them more focused on their school work, because there’s so much structure related to the team,” said Halbert. “But I think everybody would like to feel a little less crowded, especially on the east side. The spaces are too cramped.”
The Giants often shuffle between four different ball fields around Manhattan in a given week during their fall season, and even then, they don’t get enough practice time in, according to President Julian Swearengin.
“It’s stressful,” Swearengin said. “Sometimes kids forget where to go.”
Another problem is that some leagues often don’t show up during their allotted times.
“I live across the street from East River Park,” Swearengin said, “and I see huge fields going unused in the fall.”
To solve this problem, NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who supports the proposed changes, suggested that the Parks Department launch a hotline for park users to report vacant fields and that it reevaluate permits based on how frequently the permit holders use the fields.
Abramson said the Department already has an internal monitoring system in place to keep tabs on field usage.
“The borough permit offices often do spot checks throughout the season to make sure the fields are being used properly and by the permitted groups,” Abramson said. “But we will work with fields staff and parks enforcement officers to further check on permits and ask groups to present permits while they are using our fields.”