CLINTON — The children of Clinton and surrounding areas will be looking for a new place to play soccer this spring since the Kirkland Town Board decided to suspend play at the John G. Karin III Town Park, known more informally as Kirkland Town Park, during the March 27 meeting.
Despite the strong objections of American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) Regional Commissioner for Clinton, Henry Schweitzer, the board decided to uphold the decision of Kirkland Parks and Recreation Superintendent Mike Orsino, who believes the field is not safe for the children to play on.
“My concern is for the safety of the children on the fields,” Orsino said. “They were damaged last year, late in the year, and I could not get back on them to fix them before the snow fell, we just went from mud to snow. I feel the safety of the children is worth far more than the sacrifice of the spring session. And also, I can get the field repaired for the fall session.”
But Schweitzer believes it has nothing to do with the condition of the fields.
“Every year we play fall soccer and we’ll play till the end of October,” Schweitzer wrote in an email. “There are times where it is wet and muddy, but every year the grass grows back and it is fine for spring.”
Schweitzer believes Orsino’s reason for denying AYSO access to the field is something else entirely.
“This [past] fall there was an unfortunate incident where some vehicles left ruts in the grass next to the road,” Schweitzer said.
“I feel this is the major problem on why they don’t want us to play. Mike Orsino says it is a safety issue, but the playing fields are completely fine.”
Orsino said he is aware of Schweitzer’s opinion and nothing could be further from the truth. Last year was a special circumstance that Schweitzer is not taking into consideration.
“Last year we had more rain than in the years before,” Orsino said. “ And if you remember the snow came just after Halloween. I closed the park November 1. Usually we get a week or two in November to repair the park so we don’t have to repair it in the spring and that just didn’t happen last year. I’ve always had time in the past to redress and reseed. You get a little bit of winter growth (typically), but we never lost sod, never lost the root system until this year.”
“Last year we had 2-3 inches of rain and the field flooded. I even got calls from parents who were angry they were playing on a flooded field and took their kids home.”
Orsino explained the sod is gone in the center of the field , as well as in front of the far net and he believes the loss of the sod is a direct result of the decision by AYSO to play one of its last games of the year, last fall, in extreme weather conditions.
“I felt they should have cancelled that last weekend [last fall] they played up there,” Orsino said.
Orsino continued to explain he’s always left it up to their (AYSOs) discretion, because he didn’t want to make the call of canceling on the kids. And now that he has to make this decision it’s been very tough on him.”
Schweitzer continues to believe that’s not the real issue.
“There have been years where the fields have been worse and the grass has grown [back] and we’ve played,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer also said that AYSO has offered to help with the costs of repairs and in years past provided materials for repairs to be made, and frankly, believes the parents and the children are entitled to the field because they in fact pay for it.
“We purchased top soil two years ago for the park,” Schweitzer said. “That [money] came out of our funds to help certain areas. We also pay a fee to the Town of Kirkland for the kids to play, it’s around $600. All of our volunteers and parents are tax payers who pay to improve the park every year as well and really have not seen major improvements.”
Those improvements include repeated requests for better parking so the parents and kids don’t have to walk as far to get to the playing area.
“We’ve asked for parking every year and never gotten any additional parking,” Schweitzer said. “We’ve offered to help pay for some of the materials and Mike has never gotten back to us on the things he needs.”
Orsino said when it comes to the additional parking you have to look at the whole picture.
“Without AYSO, we don’t need the additional parking,” Orsino said. “And frankly, the town only gives me a small amount of money for the park, and honestly, there just isn’t enough there to construct any new parking.”
Orsino said he’s not punishing anybody, he’s not. He’s basing his decision on the safety of the children. He’s hoping to have the field ready for the fall season and if AYSO started using the field in April there’s just no way it would or could be ready for the fall. He said “sure, you could grow grass, but you couldn’t grow an established root system” in the time he would have if he allowed the spring session to proceed.
Orsino said he took AYSO into the town parks a few years ago after the school system told them they couldn’t use their fields any longer due to damage incurred after their use. The weekend in question, when it rained so hard, the town board told him that both Westmoreland and Whitestown cancelled their games due to extreme weather. Clinton were the only ones who played locally in that weather.
Orsino said this wasn’t news to the AYSO either. He said he notified AYSO as early as the end of November last year that he spring session might possibly be in jeopardy.
Orsino also said he’s made suggestions to Schweitzer for other options, or other places to play. He suggested they investigate the possibility of playing at the permanently closed Maranantha Christian Academy on Middle Settlement Road in New Hartford.
But Schweitzer said AYSO is “scrambling” trying to find a field for 250 kids to play spring soccer.
Supervisor Robert J. Meelan said he understood Orsino’s position but believed it was the best thing overall for the children, the park and the community.
“We always let our department heads take care of their departments,” Meelan said. “My concern from a town board or a town standpoint is number one- the kids. The safety of the kids. Number two is the liability. Let me give you an example. Our Fire Department, for years, had a holiday hayride up there, unfortunately, one year, somebody got hurt, the Fire Department didn’t do anything wrong-but we got sued. So I have to be concerned with the health and the safety of the kids.”
Meelan is straight forward about where he believes the responsibility for this situation lies.
“I think it was poor judgement on AYSO’s part to play the last few games they played at the end of the year,” Meelan said. “That year the field was totally underwater. I mean underwater, and they played anyway.”
And although Meelan is firm in his belief, he is not without compassion for the case at hand.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” the supervisor said. “It’s like they said to us last night [at the town meeting] they [AYSO] are trying to blame us for the kids not playing, but they should put the safety of the kids first and they didn’t.”
Meeland also said the car ruts are nothing new.
“We get those ruts every year, “ he said. “We get them every year and we fix them, that’s it.”
Meelan said Schweitzer is trying to put the blame on everyone for the kids not playing but who the blame resides with AYSO. And now what’s happened is these fields are raw, and Mike needs time to repair them correctly.
“I just don’t like this guy coming in and trying to make us the bad guys here,” Meelan said.
Kirkland Town Councilman and Deputy Supervisor, Garry Colarusso said this is a real small story here, it’s a couple of lines, and the story is this:
“The land thats up there [the park] is unable to sustain the kind of use, not abuse, but use that AYSO is going to put it through,” Colarusso said. “It sits the way it sits right now because of the use they put it through last year. It needs time to heal, it needs time to heal. The decision was made by the person who makes those decisions for us [Orsino] that that grass, that ground is not ready for use. So we have to wait...we have to wait.”
Meeland said its unfortunate the controversy this situation is causing, but he feels it’s in the best interest of the community to hold their ground on this one.
“We do, what we do, not for the money or anything else like that,” Meelan said. “We do it for the love of our community. We’ve lived here our whole lives and we do what we think is best for the people.”