In Brooklyn, Green Space With Nowhere to Play

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Basketball, Fort Greene Sports

Annamarya Scaccia

Neighborhood kids play basketball with Fort Greene Sports founder Bob Byer.

NEW YORK — Down a long hallway, through electric blue double doors, the squeaks of young people’s sneakers echoed from P.S. K753’s gymnasium.

Children 14 and under scrambled across the wooden floor. Colorful construction paper silhouettes of athletes watched over the kids as they ran from hoop to hoop.

It’s only a slice of what Fort Greene Sports — a nonprofit providing youth services to the community — used to be able to provide to neighborhood kids, said the organization’s founder Bob Byer.

The adjacent Charles B. Wang Field, Brooklyn Technical High School’s sweeping outdoor sports field, is off limits to Fort Greene Sports, he said. And he has no real idea why.

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But, he said he knows it has had a real cost for the children he mentors. Byer has to turn away children eager to join his 11-year-old nonprofit because the dispute with Brooklyn Tech over the field.

Wang Field was built in 2004 as part of Take the Field, a public-private nonprofit foundation founded in 2000. It funded the reconstruction of 43 public school sports fields throughout the city, with the goal of giving local youth nonprofits access.

Take the Field was created in order to serve youth, both from schools and community nonprofits, said co-founder Richard Kahan. While the school affiliated with the specific field has first priority to use it, he said, that school is not allowed to turn away youth groups if there are no scheduling conflicts.

“Brooklyn Tech is in violation of the basic agreement,” said Kahan, founder and CEO of Urban Assembly, an educational nonprofit serving in-need youth. “There’s no question whatsoever.”

Brooklyn Tech did not return repeated requests for comment.

“We’re trying to figure out how and why Brooklyn Tech is walking past what they agreed,” said Byer, 53. The high school at Clermont and Atlantic avenues, not far from the Barclays Center, is consistently ranked among the city’s best.

Byer said Fort Greene Sports and fellow nonprofit Young Rock Soccer Academy has used the field since it was built.

Wang Field

Annamarya Scaccia

Charles B. Wang Field, Brooklyn Tech's outdoor sports field, was built in 2004 for youth from schools and community nonprofits.

However, conflicts increased over for the last few years, Byer said, creating tension among Brooklyn Tech officials, Byer and Young Rock Soccer founder Musa Kadiri.

Last year, the two local nonprofits were denied access to the field. The loss stunted Fort Greene Sports’ growth, he said.

“It crushed me,” said Byer.

Byer halted his soccer program as a result, he said, limiting how many youth he could register — usually upward of 60. In total, about 40 kids were turned away, he said. Kadiri said he also curbed registration, losing 40 to 50 places.

For the last three years, Aliah Charles, 8, and Abdul Raheem, 10, practiced soccer under Byer’s tutelage. Not being part of the program this year has left the kids “devastated,” said their father, Roy Charles.

“I’m upset to the point that I don’t even want to drive by the field anymore,” said Charles, 48. “Why would you keep all the kids out of the field? This is our community.”

Losing access baffles Kadiri and Byer. They’ve said they’ve heard everything from “the contract is null and void” to “the field needs resurfacing” — reasons they say are disingenuous because New York City Department of Education Chancellor regulations require the field to be open to local nonprofits at no cost.

The code states financially strapped community organizations can use Take the Field grounds for free as long as there’s a no-fee permit. And they’ve always obtained a permit, Byer said.

“To hear all these things is just ridiculous,” he said.

Take the Field Site Inspector Pete Smith, who visited Wang Field within the last six months, says there aren’t any serious ground maintenance issues that would prevent nonprofits from using it. As for the contract, “it’s not up,” he said.

“And that is no reason to keep a group off the field,” added Smith, former Chancellor’s liaison to Take the Field.

He believes part of this friction is connected to who has responsibility for the field. Until a few years ago, PS K753’s custodian oversaw its upkeep. That duty was transferred to Brooklyn Tech and its principal, Randy Asher, Smith said.

To fill the gap, Charles said, he rented two 16-passenger vans for the last eight months to take youth to Hudson River Park’s Pier 40 every Saturday to practice soccer. But he’s also had to turn away families because of limited space, he said.

“We have a lot of kids from the neighborhood who want to be involved,” Charles said. “It’s tough.”

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, a Brooklyn Tech alumnus, said her office is working on reinstating access, but that financial problems involving insurance and school safety encumber the process.

The cost “is just that astronomical,” Cumbo said at a recent neighborhood town hall meeting.

Byer doesn’t buy her claim, though. He said they’ve already secured insurance and safety officers, making those nonissues. Instead, Byer claims Brooklyn Tech is stonewalling so it can control sole access.

“It’s a power play,” he said. “That’s what’s going on.”

  • Mike from Brooklyn

    Thanks for publishing this article about the dysfunctional situation at Brooklyn Tech Field. As a Young Rock parent and volunteer I’m shocked at how callous Tech / the DOE have been in regards to our requests to mediate field access.

    The sad part of this is that our elected officials – specifically Ms. Cumbo – have not been willing to fight for neighborhood kids / our community. Rather it appears that they pander to an institution (Tech) that is populated by students who are almost entirely NOT from Fort Greene / Clinton Hill / Bed-Stuy.

    Why is that, and what can we do about this? Thankfully, media attention like this article is a first step towards exposing what I believe to be an unjust and inequitable situation.

    Michael Randazzo, YRSA parent for 5 years, freelance writer, community activist