Finding Fields: How Urban Athletes get the Space to Play
It was hard to believe that the moon was rising as I returned to school from my soccer practice, and even harder to believe that the parachute tower at Coney Island was clearly visible from where we had played. After driving an hour to deep Brooklyn and back, it felt as if we had spent more time commuting than practicing.
Packer’s absence of on-campus fields has been a long-standing inconvenience for many sports teams. With soccer and cross country in the fall and baseball, softball, ultimate frisbee, track, golf, and tennis in the spring, there is no shortage of teams that require outdoor space, especially considering many sports are divided up into teams based on factors such as gender and rigor.
This begs the question of how Packer remains such a force in athletics without easily accessible places to practice. For one, there is the fact that Packer athletes are notoriously dedicated to their sports, thus proven by the nine championships won just over the course of this fall. What the student body doesn’t see, however, is the planning that goes into snagging the precious space that teams need to develop and play.
Before it was contaminated with waste from a nearby smelting factory, the Red Hook fields were Packer’s go-to sports location. The six fields that were previously available for soccer, softball, baseball, and track were narrowed down to one single turf field that was out of reach from the waste. It was a particularly hard loss not only because of the large amount of space that was put out of commission, but also because of the efforts that the conference of Brooklyn schools— Packer, Brooklyn Friends, Saint Ann’s, and Berkeley Carroll—had devoted to keeping the fields in top shape.
“We paid a landscaper to come and cut that grass, mark those lines. We made those fields. We added to the community by establishing three of the fields in addition to the turf,” said Darrin Fallick, head athletic director. “The softball fields aren’t in good shape, the baseball fields aren’t in good shape…inside the track, where the field is now a mess, you could at least still put lines down and get practice going in there. The weeds are about eight feet high [now]. You can’t even see one side of the track from the other side of the track. You can’t see your runners. All those fields are gone.”
In the wake of the loss of Red Hook, providing field space for athletes has become a question of developing strong relationships with the community and its resources—particularly the Brooklyn Parks Department. Landscaping the fields and providing materials are both guaranteed ways to give back to the Department for granting such spaces. The tradeoff is receiving their support.
“Over the years Packer has developed a very good relationship with the New York City Parks Department,” said Darrin. “We help clean up the area and do all the work in the fields for the most part. We have a guy that will come line the fields and landscape them if [the Department] can’t do it, and we’re happy to buy dirt and chalk for the lines. We’re happy to help out, and the Department certainly recognizes us.”
Fortunately, this connection has helped Packer secure fields to play at while Red Hook is in under repair. Locations like Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene and Bush Terminal in Red Hook have allowed Packer athletics to continue flourish despite the odds.
As for the future of Red Hook, there is much in store. Although the project of decontaminating the fields and rebuilding them has taken some time now, and may continue until 2020 or longer, a new and improved field will eventually become available to Brooklyn’s athletes.
“Everything should be turf down [in the fields], and it should be beautiful. They’re gonna dig up the dirt, they’re gonna lay a protective barrier down, and they’re gonna fill it with turf,” shared Darrin.