Aside from the usual array of sneakers, knee socks and uniforms, the parents of a Catholic Youth Organization collective that uses Little Bay Park’s soccer fields have grown accustomed to bringing one extra piece of equipment: first-aid kits.
Every weekend children take the field at Little Bay Park, they’re running a high risk of leaving with bloodied extremities, according to parent and Malba Gardens Civic Association president Alfredo Centola.
The dilapidated fields are far from their green ideal. Instead, kids run over rough patches of dust and soil, with pebbles causing already wobbly youngsters to topple over. Either that or the kids face a veritable mud pit after a rainy day.
Centola points the blame in one direction: the Parks Department, which he claims has repeatedly ignored requests to rejuvenate the fields while only doing a minimal job of removing the rocks that are causing all the trouble.“We’ve been asking them to clean it up for a long time,” Centola said.
The civic activist said every time parents ask the city to address the issue, they’re referred to the park’s administrator, who promises to take action.
Centola said the results are petty: Parks employees rake up the rocks and pile them up alongside the columns that prop up the approach to the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Parks Department spokesman Zachary Feder said, “Parks Department staff have raked out the small rocks that were on the field. We are also looking to add new mulch and grass seed to the field, which will also improve field drainage.”
The Chronicle asked more parents to come forward, but many demurred. Centola said many fear rhe CYO will lose the privilege of using the soccer fields if it publicly complains to the press.
It’s that sort of fear of retribution that has state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) concerned. The lawmaker has long suspected the city doles out parks permits in an unfair manner.
“I’ve always believed that there’s a lot of politics in the Parks Department about who gets permits,” he said. “Local teams, the kids’ teams who should be the first to get fields, are the first to get shut out. I can understand why they’re reluctant to speak publicly. Something is clearly going on.”
The state of the park, however, is another matter. Avella said Little Bay is only a sample of the headaches being suffered citywide, as Parks Department facilities have felt the brunt of the fiscal squeeze.
“It’s the fault of the mayor for not giving the agency enough money to do its job,” he said.
It could also be the sport. Soccer, with its high-traffic games and deep-digging cleats, is known to chew up grass.
Centola said embattled Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) had promised to allocate discretionary money to rejuvenate the fields, but ultimately never followed through.
Avella noted his hands are largely tied in Albany, where new member item funds have been frozen. The legislator said he’s working on a solution and may have a positive development to announce in the coming weeks.
Centola doubts the city will follow through on its promise to rejuvenate the parkland.
“If they put enough topsoil down and re-sodded it, and if they put a border around it and keep it from washing away, it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “They won’t update the fields; they won’t build it up.”