HILLSIDE, NJ — SCP Youth Soccer officials have used leaf blowers and laid fill in order to eliminate puddles at Conant Park, but these measures have had a limited effect.
The park, used by the Hillside-based club as a home field, is riddled with holes, bare spots and uneven ground. According to the club’s communications director, Dave Vidal, the field “turns into a swamp” when it rains.
“The field becomes atrocious any time there is even a little precipitation,” he said in a March 27 phone interview with LocalSource. “It becomes so unsafe and we just can’t use it.”
With about 100 kids in the under-7 to the under-12 age groups playing on three soccer teams, SCP Youth Soccer is trying to heighten awareness of the field issue, and trying to get the attention of the county officials who maintain Conant Park. The private, nonprofit soccer club started a petition on change.org on March 25, and attracted more than 550 signatures in less than a week, to obtain help with field repairs.
Vidal told LocalSource that SCP teams have had to forfeit games due to poor field conditions or go to a visitor’s field even when it’s the club’s turn to host. He said that it’s difficult for their teams to remain competitive because of the field conditions.
“It becomes embarrassing because everyone wants a home field advantage and we essentially sometimes play at the visitor’s field as the ‘home team,’ so to speak,” he said.
Vidal, along with his business partners and volunteers, have put in many hours trying to repair the field, using leaf blowers and packing dirt into the uneven ground.
“We try everything to make it playable,” he said.
The league has been in contact with the county regarding the conditions of the field, spokesperson Sebastian D’Elia confirmed in a March 28 phone call, and county workers have also been working to level the uneven ground.
Vidal described one occasion in which the staff had worked the previous night to spray lines, only to return the next morning to discover that a vehicle had driven onto the field when it was muddy, and left large tire tracks from doing “doughnuts” on the grass. Now the club wants to add a fence around the field’s perimeter to help preserve the grass.
“You could pretty easily tell that the tire marks came from someone who just had their foot on the gas,” Vidal said. “A fence would keep vehicles from trespassing.”
Poor lighting is another issue for the club, according to Vidal. He said the club has spent more than $2,000 in lights and generator rentals because Conant Park doesn’t have its own system.
“Surrounding Union County towns all have county parks that are turfed, lighted and playable all year,” according to the SCP petition.
The best-case scenario for Conant Park would be the installation of a turf field, like those in surrounding towns such as Springfield and Elizabeth, but Vidal said the league is just hoping for a safer field.
“We’ll need to see what the best options are for Conant Park,” D’Elia said, adding that the league is working closely with Freeholder Sergio Granados to find a solution.
The soccer club hopes to work with the county to create a well-maintained, natural grass soccer field.
“We’re not even asking for a turf field, we just know that more can be done for the safety of our kids,” Vidal said.
For the time being, since the league’s spring season started at the end of March, it is working with the Hillside Board of Education to find a temporary solution for when the field is too muddy to play.
“There have been talks of using the Hillside High School turf field when it’s available, but it is large for our players,” Vidal said. “We need more than Band-Aid solutions.”
In addition to its spring soccer season, the league has a 10-week fall season, which is also played outdoors at Conant Park, and an indoor winter season.