Guest Column: Riverhead should be the county’s sports capital

Let’s face it, Riverhead is a sports town. At many of Riverhead’s away games, you can find more Blue Waves fans who made the trip than fans supporting the home team. What you’d also probably notice at any given away game or competition is that when compared to most others’ athletic facilities, Riverhead’s facilities simply don’t measure up.

Take a home basketball game for example; visiting teams are greeted and escorted to the “visitor’s locker room,” which is actually a health classroom. More often than not, our athletes are greeted and escorted to an actual locker room whose sole purpose is to house the visiting team. How about a home football game?

Any facility built in the last 20 years has seating for 1,000-plus fans, complete with on-site home and away locker rooms, a modern concession area, bathrooms that allow for more than two to three people at a time, lighting that allows for night games and, yes, artificial turf.

There are at least 25 school districts in Suffolk County that have upgraded to an artificial turf playing surface, and that list does not include districts that have skipped the turf in favor of major improvements to onsite locker rooms, bathrooms, storage and concession areas. Our indoor athletic and multipurpose recreational facilities are also behind the times; having a second gymnasium has become commonplace on Long Island. South Country (Bellport), William Floyd, Longwood, Center Moriches, Eastport South Manor, Bay Shore and countless other districts have realized the practicality in such facility upgrades, and made the investment years ago.

As a former Blue Wave student-athlete, current coach, resident, taxpayer and new father, it saddens me that for as long as I can remember our facilities haven’t come close to what the majority of school districts have all around us. I see the excitement in our athletes’ eyes when they arrive at upgraded facilities that include turf or other features common all around and I ask myself: Why not in Riverhead?

Beginning in the fall of 2010, I was a part of the district’s CPR committee (Community Partnership for Revitalization). Over 40 community members worked together to come up with a proposal that represented the district’s infrastructure “needs” versus “wants.” I fully agreed with the decision to separate the second gymnasium proposition from the main proposition in last year’s big bond vote, because doing so was respectful of the tough economic times we are still facing today.

At the same time, both I and many others in the room knew that by doing so better the odds of the measure failing, and leaving our indoor athletic facilities being second-rate. We also came to a consensus that investing nearly $2 million into the bus garage would be a poor long-term choice, because that structure divides the main Riverhead School District campus. It’s also an extreme eyesore.
This is where I see an opportunity.

As it stands now, over $1 million has been allocated to improve existing fields on our main campus, replace stadium seating and resurface the track; no lights, no turf, no bathrooms or locker rooms, no new track. My fear is that the expenditure of these funds without first exploring the idea of something more could be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Like it or not, this community will have to do something with the bus garage, and ideally, the wise thing to do would be relocate it entirely.

What to do with the site afterwards?

To answer that, I refer to Grant Parpan’s June 11 Monday Briefing piece on, as well as his more in-depth column in last week’s News-Review newspaper: invest in a new, state-of-the-art recreational facility that would not just benefit Riverhead students but the community at large.

I envision a partnership between Riverhead Central School District and Riverhead Town that culminates in a facility that includes lighting, turf, and a track in one centralized location. What about the bus garage? Any reason the town can’t sign over the small amount of acreage needed and relocate it to EPCAL?

Anyone who has attended a sporting event in recent years at Riverhead would probably agree that in no way do our facilities, indoor or outdoor, reflect the quality, character and dedication of our student-athletes. They also don’t represent how much work and effort our amazing building and grounds staff puts into them. I believe that if we start planning for upgrades in both our indoor and outdoor athletic facilities today, in the not-so-distant tomorrow our facilities will be something our entire community can both utilize and be proud of.

Upgrading both indoor and outdoor facilities would help revitalize the entire Riverhead area. Town recreation programs, CYO and PAL leagues would actually have adequate opportunity to utilize school facilities.

Our kids deserve it; our community could only benefit from it. So I ask you, why not in Riverhead?

Justin Cobis of Riverhead is a teacher and track coach at Riverhead High School, where he has worked for the past five years.