Bad field conditions stir ire


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Parents of the West Milford Township high school baseball teams spoke at the Board of Education meeting on April 29th regarding safety issues and unplayable field conditions of the home fields, specifically Kilgallen and Dygos fields. Parents said the teams were unable to practice on the fields at the beginning of the season due to snow and subsequent flooding; scheduled season opener and other home games had to be relocated to opposing teams’ fields; and safety fences and dugouts have fallen into disrepair, causing potential hazardous conditions for players and spectators alike.

Parents said that despite the efforts of volunteers and players of the organization to assist with maintenance issues, the condition of the fields not only leave a negative impression on the young players who feel their program is being neglected by the district, but also give a negative impression to visiting teams. Parents said the fields were referred to as the "West Milford dump."

Parents speak out
Bob Szuszkowski, parent of a freshman player, said the drainage conditions of the fields need to be improved, as runoff from melting snow and rain floods the lower field. The resulting enormous puddles made the fields unplayable for most of the early part of the season, as well as resulting in muddy dugouts and portions of the field throughout the entire season. He also said there is no running water or public restroom for use as other towns have at their facilities. He said other sports, such as lacrosse and football, are funded by the district and are fortunate to be able to benefit from the use of the turf field. He said the baseball players “deserve a field they can play on” for America’s Pastime, and asked the board to “pay as much attention to baseball as other sports”.

Ron Kelemen, another baseball parent, brought photos of the fields to show board members to make them aware of the neglected fields. He explained the images in the photos, showing large puddles and muddy areas, safety concerns such as the dugouts being in “shambles” and requiring emergency roof repair by volunteers, a batting cage that has no roof if the netting isn’t put in place a certain way to cover it, broken fencing, and an on-deck area where batters warm up being situated 10 feet from spectator’s seating. He cited a recent incident at another local high school which has a similar set up, in which a wet bat slipped out of the hands of a player warming up in the on-deck area and flew into the spectator stands, injuring a child.

Kelemen said the parents and players have spent many hours of their own time clearing overgrown brush, weeds, poison ivy, and thorn bushes from the first and third base areas where the players often need to retrieve balls during games.

“I don’t feel like the parents and players should be responsible for this,” said Kelemen. “It's the maintenance crew’s work.”

Kelemen said he hoped since the board was now aware of the issues, that the situation would be rectified. “I don’t know any other West Milford sport where parents and players maintain the playing area. Does basketball wax their own floor, tennis install their own nets?”

"Strong commitment"
Superintendent James McLaughlin said the district has a “strong commitment to sports,” adding that “facilities have to be safe” and should be “something to be proud of.” He said that with the tremendous acreage to maintain in West Milford, it is extremely challenging to keep up with the infrastructure, but that the district will work with everyone to do its best to remediate the issues the best they can. He said there was no bias toward sports or certain sports, they are all treated on an equal basis, adding that lacrosse parents have funded and continue to help fund their program as well.

Business Administrator/Barbara Francisco said the athletic director, Joe Trentacosta, brought the issue to the attention of administrators a few weeks prior, and went to the fields to survey the conditions. She said part of the problem is wetlands, they also only have three maintenance crew people on staff, but they are concerned about the negative comments they have received about the conditions. She said the Supervisor of Building and Grounds has since brought in people to help. Francisco said the district was fortunate that the turf was donated; adding that on April 3, there was still five feet of snow in the parking lot of the Administration Building. She said they have to consider the environmental issues of the wetlands, but “will try to make things better as soon as possible”.

School board trustees commented on the issue as well, some surprised by the images in the photos that were presented. There was some discussion about funding concerns, and possibly the future formation of a committee to reach out to the community in order to review options and look into remedies and funding, including the possibility of adding another turf field. It was agreed that first priority is the safety of the users of the property.

What's coming
In response to a request from the Messenger for information regarding this issue, the following statement was provided by McLaughlin via email:

“On May 13, feedback was provided at the board of education meeting that the district was actively following up on the concerns that had been shared - both on a long term and short term basis. The district has sought out consultation in this regard and will be sharing feedback with the board once those consultations are complete. I anticipate that a plan of action will be shared at one of the summer board meetings."

What are your thoughts? Have you been to a game recently? Are the facilities maintained adequately? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and tell us.

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