NAUGATUCK — A long-simmering turf war over youth football field space here is coming to a head.
Since the Naugatuck Junior Football League merged with Pop Warner Football four years ago, the six Pop Warner teams have not had enough fields to practice on, coaches say.
Paul McGrath, president of the borough’s Pop Warner league, said that as the days get shorter in the fall, teams need to practice on lighted fields but are not getting the time and space they need. The league, which enrolls players between 5 and 15 years old, practices at some of Naugatuck High School’s fields and St. Francis Field downtown, all of which are lighted. The fields, however, are too small and crowded, McGrath said.
McGrath plans to go before the Park Commission Tuesday to ask for one more lighted field two nights a week, preferably Breen Field under the Salem Bridge. That field is being used by soccer and fall baseball and softball, but McGrath said he wants the commission to schedule some time for football.
“We’re an activity too, and we have 300 kids in our program,” McGrath said.
Commissioners, however, said Pop Warner is asking for too much.
“To say that there’s a field space problem for football is not fair,” Chairman Patrick Wagner said. “We don’t have enough space in town for anyone to practice the way they want to.”
The football teams already get more field space than any other youth sports group, commissioners claimed.
“Paul has the lights, but he’s just not utilizing the space,” said Jay Kuczenski, the park commission’s liaison to the football program. “For them to try to get more lights in town is just impossible, because we have so many other organizations that need lights too, and it wouldn’t be fair to bump them out.”
The Pop Warner league has to share some of the high school fields with the freshman football team and the marching band, with the end result that as many as 70 children and teens are crammed into St. Francis Field in the fall, McGrath said.
Deputy Mayor Tamath K. Rossi said she had received complaints about the lack of space, which she regarded as a safety issue.
Too many players on one field could mean a possible injury, and players are not being properly conditioned on small fields, Rossi said.
The field space wars date back to the battle over Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve, which recreation leagues wanted for a football field before conservationists won their way.
Long-term improvements, such as putting turf on the high school field for its increased use, will help the situation, but not right now, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.
“What I think is a solution is a little bit of flexibility in terms of scheduling until we can make some capital improvements at the high school,” Mezzo said. “I think there’s room for everybody on our existing inventory. … We don’t want to tell any kid that there isn’t room for them.”