Hartford Youth Football Group Upset Over Field, Stadium Fees
'Hartford Hurricanes' Coaches Warn Of Dissolving Team
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
July 16, 2013
The Hartford Hurricanes youth football group made a name for the city when its pee wee squad reached the Pop Warner national championships in Florida last December.
But months after the city gave $20,000 to help fund the trip, coaches now contend that city officials are turning their back on the team and the poor condition of the Hurricanes' practice field at Keney Park.
Phil Bryant, the Hurricanes' president, warned Tuesday that the volunteer-run organization could dissolve "if this stuff can't be worked out by August 1."
Coaches said the bumpy field has holes and grooves that are a safety risk. The grass has not been mowed this summer; there are no yardage or end zone lines painted; and a goal post had been crooked until Tuesday, when a city public works crew poured fresh cement to stabilize it.
However, frustration has peaked over a recent $6,600 bill from the city outlining fees to use Dillon Stadium for home games. Bryant said it came last week, about a month before the season starts.
The first home game is Aug. 17 for the Hurricanes' eight Pop Warner teams, which include about 300 players ages 5 to 15. The group wants to use Dillon Stadium for seven Saturdays for Southern Connecticut Pop Warner League play.
Coaches said they agreed on a $3,000 annual fee with the city last year after public works initially wanted to charge $13,000. The group already spends about $46,000 a year on insurance, equipment, travel and stadium costs, Bryant said. While most players pay a registration fee, community donations help defray expenses.
The Hartford municipal code, last revised by the city council in October, states that the public works director can waive the stadium costs for "one-time civic, patriotic, religious and recreational public events," but that excludes organized team sports.
Council President Shawn Wooden, who has described the Hurricanes' pee wee team as "a really special and inspirational story for the city of Hartford," could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Public Works Director Kevin Burnham also could not be reached.
"I don't feel like we should pay anything," Bryant said. "We are volunteering to keep ... youth off the streets."
Alvin O'Neal, chairman of the Bridgeport Raiders Pop Warner group, said Bridgeport allows his teams to use the city's Kennedy Stadium at no cost because "you're dealing with inner-city kids."
City spokeswoman Maribel La Luz released a statement Tuesday on behalf of Mayor Pedro Segarra and the city council that noted the $20,000 donation last winter.
"We have always and will continue to support the Hartford Hurricanes the same as we do all youth organizations in the city ... Recently we constructed a new practice field in Keney Park at their request. We'll do everything we can to make sure that the young people in Hartford have access to recreational opportunities and facilities similar to any other city."
Omega Cobb, a Hurricanes coach, gestured to the ankle-high grass Tuesday and asked, "Is this the new practice field in Keney Park? Really?"
His 13-year-old son, Malik, sprained his knee when he accidentally stepped in a hole in the field during practice last year, Cobb said. "The same hole is still there."
City officials have offered the team use of Colt Park in the South End, where the Hurricanes temporarily practiced before moving to Keney Park last year. But coaches said many of their football players are from the North End.
"All we want is our city to show us love," said Cobb, a Windsor resident who grew up in Hartford. "We'd just like to have something adequate to practice on and something adequate and affordable to play on."
Yahnee Brandon's son played on the pee wee team that made it to Disney World before losing in the semifinals.
"It's time for somebody to speak up," said Brandon, after signing an impromptu petition to the city that was circulating among dozens of parents who attended Tuesday evening's football and cheerleading practices.
Hurricane parent and state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said "we're going to fill the holes [at Keney Park] ourselves. Evidently the city doesn't have the capacity to do it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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