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EJECTED FOOTBALLERS FLAG PARKS & REC

eastside-parkOfficials say Red Bank’s parks & rec commission will revisit the field-use ordinance after a group of residents was abruptly kicked out of Eastside Park Sunday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Two months ago Red Bank’s recreation commission started talking about revising its ordinance regulating the use of borough parks. It didn’t get far.

But when a public works employee punted a group of residents who were playing a pickup flag football in Eastside Park last Sunday, the incident raised questions about the borough’s field-use regulations and public works’ maintenance practices. And the backlash may have moved the previous talks to the top of a to-do list.

The commission will hold a special meeting to get going on needed revisions to the ordinance, says Councilwoman Juanita Lewis, who sits on the commission as the council liaison.

The commitment comes after a group of guys who have routinely spent Sunday mornings at the park playing flag football were told by a DPW worker that they had to leave because they weren’t permitted to play there.

Why? The players said they were told public works had recently seeded the grass and that the fields need to rest; that they need insurance to play organized sports; and that a permit was required to play there, although the employee couldn’t back up those last two reasons.

But aside from the field maintenance claim, which some of the players disputed, “there really was no justification for us to be asked to leave,” said Craig Dolan, of John Street.

Dolan said the incident had the players scratching their heads, especially since they aren’t part of an organized league and hadn’t encountered a problem in years using the field. Council President Art Murphy was equally flummoxed, and prodded the council Monday night on just what the ordinance says.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels said organized leagues that aren’t part of parks and rec must have insurance to play on borough fields. While a handful of residents who show up each week with a football aren’t considered an organized league, for scheduling reasons, permits are required for games, Sickels said.

“They’re fine with getting a permit. What’s starting to get funny is getting insurance,” Murphy said. “It’s kind of a funny, gray area.”

“The games that we have are not much more organized than a bunch of moms having a play date, or a bunch of kids saying, let’s go play Frisbee,” said Brian Donohue, one of the regular players.

The players also took issue with the DPW’s excuse that nobody could use the fields because the department had recently seeded the grass. There were no signs at the field indicating that, and it wasn’t until Monday that a fence was put up to signal the fields are off-limits.

“In 24 years playing on that field Thanksgiving morning, there has been no fence,” said Jeff Senkeleski, also of John Street. “It’s not even an established practice.”

DPW Director Gary Watson said the fence will come down so people can play on Thanksgiving, a move Lewis isn’t happy with because once maintenance is started it’s vital that the department sees the plan through, she said.

“The parks are in bad shape. They’ve been in bad shape,” she said.

The rec commission and DPW have plenty to work out after these issues were raised Monday. Lewis said the commission will call a special meeting to get the kinks taken care of.

“It needs to be documented once and for all,” she said.

For Senkeleski, throwing the pigskin at Eastside Park is a family tradition, and is for many area families, he said. That won’t change this year, he said, since Watson agreed to take the fence down.

“I don’t want to mess up anybody’s Thanksgiving,” Watson said.

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