By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
In 2011, Rip Collins Field on Passaic Ave. in North Arlington, the borough’s main athletic facility, was severely damaged due to a flood, forcing the North Arlington High School athletic teams to look elsewhere to play. The floods ravaged the locker rooms, concession stand and offices that were also at Collins Field.
Then, after repairs were made to the facility, Hurricane Sandy arrived in 2012, which made the Passaic River rise to horrendous flood levels once again.
Sure enough, the North Arlington fall sports teams, especially football, were sent to play at other local fields for two seasons.
In 2013, the town passed a referendum that called for a $3.2 million renovation and restoration project to Collins Field, an improvement that included a new FieldTurf playing surface, a state-of-the-art facility for track and field and a new field for baseball.
The work on Collins Field has been ongoing since the beginning of spring and made some people wonder whether the improvements would be completed by the time the fall seasons commence in September.
Then last week, the turf field was laid down and suddenly, everyone in North Arlington could see that the improvements are becoming a reality.
“The reality is coming now,” said North Arlington High School athletic director Dave Hutchinson said. “Once the turf went down, reality set in. It’s a real positive feeling. I’ve been getting calls from alumni members and parents, coaches, everyone. We’re just not getting a brand new field, but we’re getting an all-weather six-lane track, so we can actually hold track meets. We’re also going to have night soccer games. It’s going to be a beautiful facility and we’re all really excited.
Added Hutchinson, “It’s really nice to finally be back into our home. It’s been hard to do without for the last two years.”
Hutchinson was quick to point out that the new locker rooms, offices and concession stand will all be raised by a few feet to avoid future flood situations. There will also be a weighted tarpaulin that will protect the field from possible flooding as well.
“The tarp is going to save us a lot of money,” Hutchinson said.
Joseph Riccardelli is the North Arlington Board of Education president and the chairman of the Athletics and Facilities Committee.
“It’s amazing and outstanding,” Riccardelli said. “It’s going to be one of the best, if not the very best, facilities in Bergen County. Getting this referendum passed was huge. This is a big thing in the history of North Arlington.”
Riccardelli said that the facility will also be used by the Junior Vikings youth football program as well.
The football team will christen the new Rip Collins Field Sept. 26 in a game against Cresskill.
Head football coach Anthony Marck is overjoyed to be able to go back to Collins Field.
“You can’t imagine how excited we are,” Marck said. “It’s been a long time coming. We have a very close-knit community and everyone felt that this was the best thing for everyone.”
Marck said that he has been driving past Collins Field to monitor the work ever since the construction company started work in March.
“I would drive into work and then take a detour to go past the field,” Marck said. “Then, either at lunch time or going home, I would drive by again to take a second look. I would go by there two or three times a day. I wanted to stop and get the workers coffee. It was one thing to see the work in progress, but once the turf went down, it just added to the excitement.”
Marck is astounded by the work.
“The buildings are beautiful structures,” Marck said. “The Board of Education did an excellent job, taking every step with proper precaution. I have to credit the Board of Education and the people of North Arlington for passing the referendum. I don’t think flooding water will ever be a problem there again.”
Marck is hoping to get approval to begin practices at the new facility as soon as possible. “We don’t have a certain date, but we’re hoping for the end of August,” Marck said. “Whenever it’s ready, we’ll be happy. It’s so exciting to see it coming together. I know it’s really hard to hold the excitement back until we can get on the field.”
Needless to say, the last two years of being a vagabond football program with no true home has been extremely trying.
“It’s been quite the while,” Marck said. “We had our share of distractions last year. I’m not an excuse maker, but it’s relief to know we’ll have our own place again. It’s only going to make us a better football team.”
Boys’ soccer head coach Jesse Dembowski is also excited about the improvements.
“We’re very lucky and fortunate,” Dembowski said. “We’re excited about having a new state-of-the-art home. We don’t have to worry about playing all away games anymore. We also haven’t had a night game in years, so that will be exciting. It’s very uplifting for the players.”
Dembowski thinks that the turf field is a little bigger than the grass field the Vikings played on in Riverside County Park.
“I think the bigger field suits our style more,” Dembowski said. “I know a lot of my players will be ready to play there. It’s the talk of the town, getting to be on that field. I think now all we need to do is get some wins.”
First things first. It’s time to get the Vikings back home where they belong.