Members of the Mattituck Soccer Club are up in arms this week after the Mattituck Park District voted to allow students from McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead to play junior varsity lacrosse this spring at the Aldrich Lane soccer fields in Laurel.
The park district’s commissioners voted 2-1 last Thursday to let the boys and girls lacrosse teams use two of the three fields on the site on weekday afternoons through mid-May. The dissenting commissioner, Nick Deegan, argued that one of the fields was just reseeded last October and that the park district had been planning not to use it until the grass began to grow again.
When news of the decision reached the Mattituck Soccer Club, whose 700 members are the primary users of the fields, its members reacted swiftly with a demand that the field be reserved for soccer.
In an e-mail circulated to members of the club over the weekend, the group’s registrar, Joseph Pfaff, argued that lacrosse would damage the fields and that there would be safety issues if kids played soccer next to lacrosse players. Mr. Pfaff wrote that Mattituck’s own lacrosse teams had intentionally avoided playing on the Aldrich Lane fields out of concern for the soccer fields. He urged members of the club to contact park commissioners Charlie Zaloom and Doris McGreevy and ask them to reconsider their votes on the issue.
Mr. Pfaff declined to comment for this story, citing his group’s plan to gather more information before speaking publicly about keeping lacrosse off the fields.
Mr. Zaloom, who is park commission chairman, said that the park district could not legally deny McGann-Mercy the use of the empty fields. He said that the private school asked to use the fields after the park district had learned that the Mattituck Soccer Club was planning to use only one of the three fields on the site at the time McGann-Mercy wanted to be there.
He said that he’d received an overwhelming number of comments from soccer club members who didn’t want the field to be used for lacrosse.
Mr. Zaloom said that park district residents and groups that had already been using the fields were given first priority when the spring schedule was drawn up in February. But he added that the district was legally obligated to allow other groups to use the fields because the district had used state money to install lights there half a decade ago.
McGann-Mercy Athletic Director Paula Nickerson said Wednesday that she had approached the park district after learning that the lacrosse fields at Strawberry Fields in Mattituck were already being used by the Mattituck lacrosse team. She said that this is the first year McGann-Mercy has had a boys lacrosse team, and only the second year that they have fielded a girls team. The girls played at the McGann-Mercy school field in the center of the school’s track last year but can no longer play there because doing so would conflict with the track team’s schedule.
Mr. Zaloom said the McGann-Mercy teams include about the same number of Mattituck Park District residents as does the Mattituck Soccer Club, which is open to people throughout the North Fork. He said that about a third of the 45 McGann-Mercy lacrosse players are from Mattituck, while three out of 10 soccer club members are from Mattituck.
Mr. Zaloom added that the park district had deliberately put the boys lacrosse team on a former baseball field behind a fence to keep high-speed, hard lacrosse balls from flying onto the soccer field.
“They’re beginners. I don’t see them tearing up the field,” he said of the Mercy-McGann team members, who began practicing on the fields Monday.
Mr. Deegan, however, said that he believes that the Mattituck Soccer Club’s stewardship of the fields should be honored.
“The field was reseeded last year at a cost of $1,600 with the idea of resting it,” he said. “This whole thing has upset all that. I’ve been involved with these fields for 10 years. It’s hard to get a good sod base on the fields. It takes a lot of nurturing.”
Commissioner Doris McGreevy, who voted to allow the lacrosse players to use the fields, could not be reached for comment.
Though both Mr. Deegan and Mr. Zaloom said that they hoped to work out an amicable arrangement with McGann-Mercy, another player in the controversy is due to emerge — the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District.
The Mattituck Park District only owns a portion of the two southern fields on the site. One of these fields is slated to be used this spring for soccer; the other is the recently reseeded field in question. About a third of the land on which those fields sit belongs to the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District’s Laurel School property, although it is managed by the park district, which leases the land.
Mr. Zaloom said that the Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board will likely address the issue at its next board meeting tonight, March 17, since some board members are concerned about the use by another school of fields they own.
“To me, it’s just ‘get the most kids having a good time,’” said Mr. Zaloom. “I don’t care what team is there as long as we get the most kids out on the field. Lacrosse teams have it hard. They really have nowhere to go.”