No cheers as Bergtraum shuts out school, Little League
By Julie Shapiro
To Aaron Silverman, the request seemed simple.
Silverman, athletic director of Millennium High School, wanted to start a baseball team using a diamond under the Manhattan Bridge.
But the field belongs to Murry Bergtraum High School, and when Silverman asked the school for permission to use the field for eight to 10 afternoons this spring, he got a very simple response: No.
In a one-line e-mail last fall, the assistant principal of Murry Bergtraum told Silverman that the school never rents out its field, Silverman said.
In fact, Bergtraum does rent out the field to school, nonprofit and for-profit groups, but Silverman isnt the only one having trouble getting time on the field. Mark Costello, a director of Downtown Little League, said the league was denied field time at first and later was given only three dates this summer. The league pays $70 to $100 to rent the field for an evening.
Its nothing new that demand for full-size baseball fields in New York City easily outpaces the supply. Those responsible for giving out field permits have always had to prioritize who gets field space when.
But Costello said that while youth sports usually get priority at the citys other fields, no system of priorities appears to be in place at Murry Bergtraum. At the Bergtraum field, at Cherry and Market Sts., the schools custodian issues the permits. And while Costello and Silverman have both had trouble getting field time, adults frequently use the field. ZogSports, an adult league, booked more than 15 evenings at the field over the spring and summer of this year.
Thats absolutely disgraceful, said Richard Kahan, co-founder of Take the Field, the nonprofit that helped rebuild the Bergtraum field after 9/11. Thats absolutely not what we raised the money for.
The Bergtraum field received a $1 million grant from Verizon and a $3 million city match in 2002, through Take the Field.
The goal of improving the field was to provide more recreation facilities for Lower Manhattan, a neighborhood sorely in need of open space, the Mayors Office said when the Verizon donation was announced.
Kahan said Take the Field spelled out restrictions on the money to make sure it met that goal. Murry Bergtraum was supposed to get first priority use of the field, then other local schools, then youth nonprofit leagues. If none of those groups wanted to use the fields which would be incredibly unlikely in Lower Manhattan, Kahan said only then were adult leagues allowed.
Its inconceivable to me, Kahan said when told that adult leagues had lots of time on the field. If theyre doing this properly, there cant possibly be any time for adult leagues.
Kahan said he believed Take the Field had signed a contract with the school setting out the priorities, and he would have someone look into the permitting process.
Margie Feinberg, spokesperson for the Dept. of Education, said Murry Bergtraum tries to accommodate every request it receives, without giving preferential treatment to either youth or adult leagues. Feinberg added that Murry Bergtraum uses the field for its own athletics during the school year, though Costello said the field is often empty. The field is about half a mile from Murry Bergtraum.
Feinberg and Costello had different accounts of why the Little League did not get more time on the field this summer, likely based on miscommunications. Feinberg did not comment on why Millennium was denied field access.
Rebecca Skinner, chairperson of Community Board 1s Youth and Education Committee, said she is working with the leagues and Murry Bergtraums principal to clarify the procedures and improve communications. All parties are cooperating, she said.
The Murry Bergtraum field is one of the few full-size, artificial-turf baseball fields in Lower Manhattan, with bleachers that hold hundreds of people and professional-looking dugouts and backstops.
John De Matteo, athletic director at the Manhattan Academy of Technology, which is one block away from the field, said the field could be a major asset for his school and the community.
Its absolutely gorgeous, De Matteo said. Any kid would be lucky to get on there.
De Matteo got a permit from Murry Bergtraum to hold a citywide track-and-field series on the field during seven school days this spring. The kids are always in awe of the size and quality of the field, he said.
De Matteo hopes to get more field time in the future for other events, and he said Murry Bergtraum has been accommodating so far.
Silverman, the Millennium athletic director, had a very different experience. Even when he offered to raise money to help maintain the field, Murry Bergtraum still would not let his kids use it, he said.
Our kids are extremely flexible theyll play at midnight if you give them space and light, Silverman said. Whatever we were asked to do, we would be willing to figure out how to do it.
Without a home field, Silverman could not start a baseball team in the Public School Athletic League and instead formed a club, which scrimmages only once per season, because its hard to find other teams to play. The club practices wherever it can, from Millenniums hallways to barbecue pits in parks, and on smaller softball diamonds.
Millennium High School has no gym, so even regular physical-education classes are a challenge. Without baseball, the school has no spring sports at all.
Theres huge student demand for it, Silverman said of a baseball team. Its such a popular sport, I cant imagine high school without it.