Last week, over a year after its abrupt closure last August, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) re-opened Octagon Field and re-naming it Jack McManus Field in honor of the recently retired Chief of the Island’s Public Safety Department (PSD).
Former chief, Jack McManus, second from left on the field bearing his name, and new chief, Kevin Brown, far right
“We decided to name the field after Jack for two reasons,” explained Susan Rosenthal, President of RIOC to a crowd largely comprised of the PSD, members of McManus’s family, RIOCs leadership and staff, and a dozen or so Island kids and their parents, many of whom held soccer balls on their hips expectantly. “First, we love Jack. And Jack has done incredible things for the community...”
Secondly, Jack loves sports. And he used to coach youth soccer right here on Roosevelt Island.”
“The decision to coach was one of the best decisions I could have made. Because it really accelerated my relationships with the community,” said McManus.
Many may remember MacManus as the affable chief who’d say hello to you on Main Street like a friendly neighbor. He always wore a cap, and might likely be smoking a cigarette, for which you promptly forgave him because his smile was so disarming. He wasn’t your typical police chief.
Yet some strange ironies hovered in the air. Many local youth had felt extremely let down when the field closed abruptly last year without any warning – cutting kids off from use of the field for the entire fall soccer season, which then dragged on through winter, spring and summer.
Many had trained for years with programs like Palladino Soccer Academy, which departed when the field where they practiced was closed. Those local kids had not only developed a competitive edge under the Palladino program, they had developed a fierce love of the sport.
Two young players in attendance with their father, Cornell Tech professor Tapan Parikh, had even been issued a summons by PSD – or their father had – when they were all found playing soccer on the field in spite of the keep-off signs.
Last fall, a group of soccer families and other concerned community members formed a coalition, RI Fields for RI Residents. They were concerned with the steep permitting fees that put local youth in competition with off-Island groups like Zog Sports.
They were also concerned with the prohibitive 10-foot fence being installed, as well as a design to cut down 11 evergreen trees. A petition was circulated around the community. Signs featuring the RIOC’s No Soccer Playing Allowed signs were plastered around the island.
Adib Mansour is a RIRA member who heads the Children, Youth and Education Committee and is a longtime soccer coach
Adib Mansour, an Island activist and long time coach, said that Islanders were being shut out of the process. Roosevelt Island Residents Association representative, Kaja Meade, called for a “more imaginative “ design for “ball control “ that involved something along the lines of a living wall. RIOC promised their design would afford shade for 200 families.
Now as Rosenthal, RIOC Chief Operating Officer Shelton Haynes, and McManus cut the red ribbon with big scissors, tensions with the Island community did not fall away as kids ran onto the field.
The eastern side of the field, remains under construction with raised concrete rubble and a back-hoe. So far the evergreens remain. But even getting to the ceremony had been challenging due to the access being on the river side and not along the road near the bus stop.
I noted that the new turf had a strangely spongy feeling under foot. “The pellets help the balls bounce,” Monsour stated.
Tiny black rubber pellets are embedded among the synthetic blades. The pellets, which give off a chemical smell, are made of recycled tires, igniting new concerns about players’ safety.
While some say the new field is safer, some parents won’t let their kids sit on the field. “If I find out that my son is sitting on the field, I’m pulling him out of the league,” one parent said.
Construction on phase two of the project, the comfort station, is ongoing. Currently there is only access in the north east corner of the field.