By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
If you take a drive around the area’s high school playing facilities, you will basically find a local array of excellence– Fields of Dreams so to speak.
Most of the area’s high school fields have undergone major renovations and restorations over the last few years.
We’ve seen the construction of a brand new Harrison High School and its state of the art stadium. It’s an athletic facility that draws raves from people all over New Jersey and has been utilized as a home field for other local schools in need.
We’ve seen the major renovations made at Harvey Field in Kearny two years ago, complete with its FieldTurf surface. The same can be said for Franklin School Field, where Kearny plays baseball and practices soccer.
Belleville just recently had a major renovation to Belleville Stadium, complete with FieldTurf and a restoration of the long-standing concrete bleachers. The Nutley Oval had an overhaul a few years ago and remains one of the finest in the area.
Five years ago, Lyndhurst was fortunate to gain the new recreational facility that is used for baseball, softball as well as boys’ and girls’ soccer. The Lyndhurst High School main field was renovated with FieldTurf three years ago.
Now, there’s a new athletic facility in the area that will become the home of both Queen of Peace and North Arlington football and soccer teams this fall.
Both schools recently announced a deal with the Bergen County Parks Department to utilize the brand new state-of-the-art facility inside Riverside County Park South on the Lyndhurst/ North Arlington border.
It’s a blessing for both schools, considering that last fall, Hurricane Sandy turned all of the schools’ fall programs into vagabonds, searching for fields to practice and play on.
For example, Queen of Peace did not have a home field for football last fall. The Golden Griffins played three home games at Harrison and a fourth–ironically against neighboring rival North Arlington–at Belleville Stadium.
“We didn’t think Riverside County Park would be ready for us,” Queen of Peace athletic director Ed Abromaitis said. “Harrison was ready to accommodate us again. But we received word that it would be ready in time for the fall.”
Abromaitis said that a meeting was held last week between Ron Kistner, the executive director of Bergen County Parks, Dave Hutchinson, the athletic director at North Arlington and himself to discuss scheduling for the fall.
“We’re very excited,” said Abromaitis, whose football, boys’ and girls’ soccer teams will call the new facility home this fall. “We have five home football games scheduled and we’re pretty excited about it.”
The Golden Griffins begin the football season at home Sept. 14 against Manchester Regional at 1 p.m., christening the new facility.
“It’s a big blessing,” Abromaitis said. “It’s really huge for us and huge for our program. We were scrambling last year for places to play and practice. Now we have one of the best facilities around.”
The facility will have lights, a concession stand, bleachers to hold 600 spectators and a press box.
Hutchinson needed to find a suitable home facility, considering Rip Collins Field in North Arlington, severely damaged by the floods of the last two storms, would not be available this fall.
“We’re basically in transition,” Hutchinson said. “We weren’t sure what we were going to do and weren’t sure what the county would give us. It’s a great facility.”
The Vikings’ football team will open its home season at Riverside County Park on Sept. 20 against Wallington.
Last year, the North Arlington boys’ soccer team earned a berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs, but couldn’t play its scheduled home game in the states because there wasn’t a suitable home field available.
“We basically had to forfeit the home field and ended up playing our home game on the road,” Hutchinson said. “Now we have a place that can withstand some bad weather. We’re excited about it.”
To the borough’s credit, a referendum was passed to make the necessary improvements at Rip Collins, including new locker rooms and more importantly, a new FieldTurf surface.
“The project is slated to start in the fall,” Hutchinson said. “We will return to Rip Collins in 2014. We wanted to be at Rip and it was a tough decision not to play there. But the county reached out to us to come and play at Riverside County Park. It’s a no-brainer. It’s the right thing to do.”
Hutchinson said that he was able to agree on a schedule with Abromaitis for boys’ and girls’ soccer. Everything seems to be in place.
And on Nov. 1, the two football teams will meet at Riverside County Park. There’s no need to go to Belleville this year.
“We were offered a state-of-the- art field to use,” Hutchinson said. “It was hard to turn down.”
There’s more good news. A baseball and softball field will be finished in time for the spring, giving both schools the option to play those sports there.
Yes, it’s certainly a Field of Dreams for QP and NA. And it’s great news that the powers-that- be in Bergen County are allowing the two local schools to play there.