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Saint John sports teams pleased that city will maintain fields

Saint John says there is some budget for sport field maintenance after all
WATCH: Only weeks after announcing that fields will not be maintained due to budget restrictions and its COVID-19 response, Saint John says there is room in the budget for this.

Just weeks after telling Saint John sports organizations it would not be maintaining fields for the 2020 season, the City of Saint John has decided to play ball.

At Monday’s common council meeting, the city announced it would be able to provide maintenance for some fields after all.

City workers will maintain major complexes like Forest Hills, Memorial Field and Shamrock Park, along with other select locations.

In the first stage of maintenance, the city said select fields will be inspected to ensure they “meet basic safety requirements.” COVID-19 signage will be installed and the fields will be ready for practices and tryouts by mid-June.

READ MORE: Saint John sports teams frustrated after being told to maintain their own fields this year

The news is music to the ears of the Port City Pirates Baseball Association. The organization, which covers about 350 players each season, has not been able to hold formal tryouts because of the pandemic.

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Vice president Mike Brooks said he’s not sure the group could have maintained fields on their own, and contracting a landscaper would have cost thousands of dollars.

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“We had quotes from different contractors,” Brooks began. But even some of those that gave me quotes, gave me quotes saying, ‘We can’t supply the manpower to do it.’ Almost every landscaping company I talked to was looking for more people.”

Cuilean Hendra, vice president of the Saint John Soccer Association, credits the work of the various leagues and associations for pressuring the city to change its approach.

“I was pleased to hear that the city changed their mind and they’re willing to do more than they were before,” Hendra said. “And I think it’s really positive for the kids who are really excited to get on the field sooner rather than later.”

The second stage of maintenance will make the fields game-ready by early July. That means mound and infield preparation, field lining and more frequent mowing of grass. Rental fees, waived for June, would be reinstated at that time.

Throughout the summer, though, clubs and associations are being asked to sanitize frequently-touched surfaces and clean up litter.

While working out at Shamrock Park in the city’s north end, Saint John football player Ezekiel Gray noted a collection of empty pop and beer cans littering the field and cleaned them up. He said it’s important for Saint Johners to keep their fields clean and safe.

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“This is the community’s field,” said Gray, whose first season of football at Holland College was wiped out due to the pandemic. “It’s not just my field or anybody else’s field. And we should all, as a community be taking the initiative clean up after ourselves. Even if we didn’t do it. Even if I wasn’t the one to make the mess or someone else wasn’t the one to make the mess. We should still be doing it just because of the fact that this is our community’s field.”

READ MORE: Saint John sports organizations brace for funding cuts

Hendra said his club is more than willing to help keep fields clean.

“I think we all know that if we don’t follow the rules and we don’t do what we need to do, then there won’t be soccer,” Hendra said. “I don’t imagine there’s too many kids and parents that want to jeopardize that at this point because they just want to get out and play.”

Hendra said his club will be able to hold practices starting next week, but no games yet due to social distancing requirements.

Brooks said he’s hoping his various clubs are playing games as part of a shortened season starting in July, but he said the teams are limited to games within the region between Sussex and St. Stephen.

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