Making room for little ones at Veterans Park field

Photo by Ron Leir/ Veterans Park Soccer Field


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Soccer is catching on with the younger generation in East Newark and the borough has tried to satisfy the demand but officials say it hasn’t always been easy – for various reasons.

Therefore local lawmakers want to place an age restriction on who can use the borough’s single soccer facility as a way of ensuring that younger, smaller kids at least have access.

During the 1990s the borough made a point of setting up an artificial turf field dedicated to soccer for youth recreation. “In fact,” says Mayor Joseph Smith, “we were one of the first communities in Hudson County to get the Astroturf type surface.”

Kids from the borough’s lone elementary school are permitted to use the field for outdoor exercise, weather permitting, during the school day.

Still, the field’s primary use is for soccer.

These days, however, the problem, according to Smith, is: “The big people – kids (ages) 18 to 20 – push the little ones out.” Or, at best, the smaller kids have to share the field with the bigger ones and the field isn’t that big to begin with, the mayor says.

“It’s not a regulation size soccer field,” Smith explains. “It’s smaller in length and not as wide as a regulation field because it’s designed for smaller children.”

One girl interviewed by The Observer during a recent visit to the borough’s Veterans Park Soccer Field on Sherman Avenue said that sometimes the smaller kids “split the field” with the bigger ones. “Really it’s based on how many kids are here,” she added.

There are times, she said, when borough police have locked down the field when “some of the older kids fight” among themselves.

Smith said he’s had “parents call me up complaining their kids can’t play” because there’s too much competition from the older youths.

And when the different ages do share the field, there can still be problems, Smith said, because “when the older kids kick the ball on a smaller field, it has a lot more impact and the smaller kids can get hurt.”

Councilman Charles Tighe, who used to coach recreation soccer at the field, agreed with that assessment, saying, “We don’t mind people coming to our field to play. We just don’t want the older ones. Especially if they’re wearing cleats. Anytime I see them in there (with cleats), I kick them off.” Cleats – even rubber ones – are banned at Veterans Park because they “rip up the field.”

“We let the big guys play (games) once in a blue moon but we get a permit and do it right,” Tighe said.

Sometimes, Tighe said, “the big ones throw plastic and bottles around the field,” forcing the borough to clean up after them.

The field has taken a beating, too. “The nets are in shambles, one of the posts on one of the nets is broken – that’s like the third or fourth time it’s happened,” he said.

A lot of older kids from neighboring Harrison (where most East Newark kids attend high school) and Kearny come to use the field, Smith and Tighe said.

“The Harrison (soccer) Courts are mobbed with kids all the time,” Tighe said, so some of the overflow ends up in East Newark. And while soccer is played at the Gunnel Oval off Schuyler Avenue in Kearny, Smith said that “the teens don’t want to walk down to Schuyler,” which is a heavily-traveled north-south throughway in the region.

Since the borough received state Green Acres funding to improve its field, it cannot prevent out-of-towners from using the facility “but we can regulate the age limit,” Smith said.

And, to that end, the Borough Council voted Aug. 9 to introduce an ordinance amending the “Use, Care and Protection of Borough Parks” to say that, “No person age 13 and over shall be permitted on Veterans Park Soccer Field unless supervising a younger person or allowed by permit issued….”

Additionally, the revised ordinance mandates that, “No person (is) allowed in Veterans Park Soccer Field or Playground under the age of 6 without (a) guardian.”

If the ordinance passes a public hearing on Sept. 12, it will be up to the borough police to enforce it.

And if it does pass, Smith figures parents of soccer-starved youngsters will be happy but Tighe wonders if that will be enough to help them.

Up until about two years ago, Tighe said, “we used to run a soccer clinic for grammar school kids, five days a week, from 6 to 8 p.m., during the fall, when it’s still light out.” While the younger ones turned out, kids in grades 6 to 8 shied away from the clinic. “They’d rather play,” he said.

Of late, though, aside from the reliable Jim Lynch, who is “from Scotland and knows the game,” it’s been tough getting volunteers to help coach because a lot of people “just don’t want to be bothered” getting the mandated background checks, said Tighe, even though the borough pays for the security checks.

A lot of parents “will show up to watch” kids play but don’t have any interest in volunteering, he added.

“You need adult supervision,” Tighe said, to make sure the youngsters are properly trained. Smith readily agreed.

“We tried to set up leagues but the problem is getting volunteers,” he said.

Another issue, Tighe said, is that some kids “depend on their parents to bring them and pick them up and that doesn’t go over well.”

But Tighe remains hopeful that “by spring,” things will start to pick up again.

Time will tell. The ordinance gets a public hearing Sept. 13 at 5:30p.m. at Borough Hall.

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