Everyone involved with the football program at Lehman High School is fed up with having an unusable field, and some are scrambling to do something about it before the school moves forward with a renovation plan.
The School Construction Authority is set to break ground by Thanksgiving on a $2.8 million reconstruction plan that will include renovation of the field, which is infamous for being only 80 yards. But the renovation will not expand the field — it will remain unplayable. The team will still have to travel to Alfred E. Smith for its home games this season. In years past, they played at Clinton, but that field is being renovated.
“We’re the last team in the Bronx to get our own field,” said Coach Michael Saunds, who took over in June. “They are going to redo the field with the same yardage. They just want to say they’re re-doing it, but they’re not servicing our population.”
Saunds, local elected officials, and members of the Football Alumni Association are trying to delay renovation plans and get the extra land needed to make the field regulation size.
They need 30 more yards. The land is there, but the question is whether they can get it. They have two options — two vacant parcels owned by separate entities.
The first chunk of land, a small block at the south end of the field just before the water, is owned by the Army Corp. of Engineers. If the school were to acquire this land, the field would be long enough, running adjacent to the school, and they would merely erect a very tall fence to prevent field goal kicks from sailing into the water.
The other piece of land contiguous to the field on the west side is owned, according to Hutch Management president Joe Kelleher, by S.D.C. Ferris Associates, LLC, a multiple partnership that includes Joe Simone. Obtaining this land would allow for a full field going in a diagonal direction — it might look strange, but would make regulation size.
Coach Saunds and others said that getting the land at the south end may involve too much bureaucratic tape, so they believe the S.D.C. Ferris piece is the better option.
Joe Kelleher said that as of yet, “the School Construction Authority has never contacted S.D.C. Ferris directly to lease or purchase that property. The governing body of the schools needs to formally reach out to us.”
Councilman Jimmy Vacca, a Lehman alum, said he reached out to Simone, who told him any discussions about the land needs to be initiated by the School Construction Authority.
Athletic director Diane Hamilton said she has been trying to get the field redone for years.
“Other schools are on their second or third field, we’re waiting on our first,” she pointed out. “Five years ago, we agreed to wait and be the last school in the city to get a field, because they said that the city would get us the land from the Army Corp of Engineers. So now here we are, and the renovation plans do not include getting that land.”
Hamilton said that the DOE and the school authority do not understand the positive impact of having a regulation field. “The revenue generated by having home games, and the school spirit it creates, we don’t have. With lights and concessions, we would keep kids off the street each night.”
Football program alumn Mario Romaine, a ‘78 graduate, is getting involved.
“We’ve never had a real field. It’s been 30 years. Other schools get home games and the parents come and sell hot dogs, and we don’t get any of that.” Romaine said that everything he has gained in life is a benefit of the Lehman football program.
“I think when they designed the building they forgot about sports or something,” said Kenny Singleton, another football alum, class of ‘82. “They just dropped a field wherever they could, and didn’t put thought into it.”
Local elected officials are on board with the push, but can only do so much.
“I want the School Construction Authority to do it once and get it right,” said Vacca. “I told them the field they are building will not be regulation. We in this community have waited years for a regulation football field at Lehman, and instead of this being an answer to our prayers, it will not meet our needs.”
Congressman Joseph Crowley agreed. “The time to even the playing field, both literally and figuratively, for the student athletes at Lehman High is long overdue,” he said. “I’m anxious to help the school resolve this matter.”
“Timing is not really on our side,” acknowledged Saunds. “The school is supposed to break ground on the new field work in mid-October. But we don’t want them to break ground on a field we can’t use, so that’s why we’re pushing so hard right now.”