John McQuaid stands in the middle of an open field, a large unused tract of land that's perfectly mowed, and scratches his head about a problem that seems to have a very obvious answer, a solution as prominent as the grass he is standing on, but remains out of reach.
“We just want to play ball,” said McQuaid.
McQuaid is a trustee of Kings Park Youth, Kings Park’s largest organized youth sports group. The organization is trying to find a solution to problem that has dogged them for years; the lack of available playing fields for the more than 1,000 kids that make up KPY.
McQuaid shares a story about sitting in a KPY meeting at William T. Rogers Middle School trying to figure out where the kids would be able to hold their practices and play ball. The school sits directly across the street from the Nissequogue River State Park, which is housed on the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center grounds. He decides to start making a plan.
“A couple of years of this, years without playing fields and I got frustrated and said we are literally looking at a piece of property where the state cuts the grass and no one uses it,” said McQuaid, referring to some of the grounds at the park. About that time, McQuaid and the trustees decided to approach the parks department to see if they could work something out.
McQuaid approached Ron Foley, Long Island Regional Director of state Office of Parks and Historic Preservation, who said that the first steps in developing the parkland are creating a master plan for the area, which to date has not been done. The psych center closed its doors in 1996 and the state has been slow to react, only recently beginning demolition work of structures that are either condemned or too beyond repair to save.
As the group waits for a solution, other fields in the area get overused. Kings Park High School has allowed KPY, along with other groups to use their fields, but the constant use has resulted in fields that are not able to be reseeded or properly maintained.
Susan Agruso, district superintendent for Kings Park Schools, said the lack of playing space has caused stress on the school fields.
“So many groups use our fields. We are trying to do work on fields now that the season is over, trying to get grass growing,” said Agruso. “We are looking for other fields around so we can shut down for the whole summer.”
McQuaid adds that so many teams practicing on one field causes a risk to the players on it.
“We have little league kids in one area and in another area older kids practicing who can really hit, that becomes dangerous when you have too many kids in one area. Balls are flying,” said McQuaid.
In a conversation with Patch in June, Foley said, “We aren’t going to make a commitment to any kind of permanent improvements at this point. He (McQuaid) wants to put together a proposal and we are happy to look at the proposal.”
A section of the park is dedicated to the Tiffany Fields soccer pitch, an accommodation made years ago. McQuaid said he wants to see the same accommodation made for KPY.
“We are trying to mimic what is being done already in Tiffany Field, which is under the domain of the parks department,” he said. “Let us carve out a piece of the property and let us care for it.”
The group is willing, and able, to pay for it. McQuaid said $60,000 has already been set aside. A petition, dubbed "Field of Dreams," has also been started and to date has the support of more than 1,000 people.
McQuaid is interested in the area next to the old KPPC firehouse. The field is about three and a half acres and would need some leveling as well as the removal of one or two trees, all work that McQuaid said KPY will pay for.
"We will make the improvements and maintain it" said McQuaid. "We just want to play ball."