Fields, Building Character
crumbling athletic fields of New York City Public High Schools
haven’t had public funding in 25 years.
isn’t it? And this is only made more shocking by the fact that
New York City has the highest percentage of students not
participating in physical activity; that the City has the highest
percentage of child obesity and other health problems of any major
American city; and that it has the highest percentage of school
absenteeism, while athletics has always been known to serve as
the great equalizer when it comes to school attendance.
Based on the principle of “better late than never”, three powerful
New York personalities—New Jersey Giants owner Bob Tisch, urban
planner Richard Kahan, and community activist Tony Kaiser—have
decided to respond to this sorry situation. The result was the
formation of Take the Field, a private-public partnership aimed
at fixing public athletic fields.
pilot program, established two years ago, was a three-to-one challenge,”
said Executive Director Mary Musca. “Take the Field was going
to raise $4 million if the City provided $12 million.” The program
was such a sizzling success—seven horribly damaged fields have
already been fixed up—that, a year ago, then-Mayor Giuliani said
in his State of the City address: “I’ll make sure any field they
want to fix will have funding.”
Twenty-one fields are slated to be completed by the end of the
summer, including the ancient athletic facility at Brooklyn’s
South Shore High School. “It hasn’t been as much as touched since
1970,” Principal Steven Berger said. “It is a mess.” Remarkably,
in spite of the horrible conditions, South Shore has been fielding
outstanding, sometimes even nationally ranked, football and track
teams for years.
In fact, it was the great track team that
caught the attention of John Whitehead, the former chairman of
Goldman Sachs. An enormous track and field fan all
his life, Whitehead decided to team up with Take the Field to
give a leg up to South Shore by putting up a significant portion
of the cost of the $4.5 million project personally.
school athletics are a very important part of a young person’s
development,” he said. “Among other things, it keeps them away
from temptations that are all over the city.”
The building of the new athletic complex, which shall bear Whitehead’s
name, has been a tremendous boon to the school and its 2,600 students.
“They’re ecstatic,” Berger said. “We have a great deal of athletic
prowess at the school—and now we’ll have the facilities to match
Whitehead had nothing but praise for the efforts of Take the Field.
“There are important lessons to be learned through playing sports,
in leadership, discipline and character,” he said. “I hope this
organization merely scratches the surface right now. There’s so
much more to be done.”#
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