Naugatuck, Pop Warner reach deal on lights

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The borough of Naugatuck and its Pop Warner Football League, have agreed to light Hop Brook Field, behind the school, providing a solution to the issue of lighted practice space in town.-RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — An agreement between the borough and the Pop Warner football program to light Hop Brook Field is expected to stave off the territorial fight that erupted last year over nighttime practice space for fall recreational sports.

“It will be a good use for the Pop Warner league for sure, so it’s a real big positive for us,” said Paul McGrath, the league’s president in the borough.

Four poles, each carrying four 1,000-watt lights similar to the ones on St. Francis Field, will be installed late next month, Public Works Director Jim Stewart said. The football league will pay the $25,000 cost of installation and the borough will pay electrical and maintenance costs, according to an agreement the Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved earlier this month. For its investment, Pop Warner gets primary rights to the field between Aug. 1 and Nov. 30. Other activities and events must be scheduled around the football league during that time.

“I think it’s a good arrangement for the borough,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo, who coaches various youth sports and has repeatedly stressed the need for more field space. “Pop Warner football has and always will be an important sport in Naugatuck, steeped in tradition.”

Steve’s Electrical Contracting, of Candee Road, will install the lights. The business is one of two electrical contractors the borough board approved last month after soliciting bids.

Pop Warner, which enrolls about 300 players between the ages of 5 and 15, fought with the borough’s youth soccer league and Park Commission last year over lighted field space, a scarce commodity in the borough. As the days got shorter in the fall, the league had to distribute seven teams among St. Francis Field and some high school fields because those were the only available lit spaces. As many as 70 children and teens were sometimes crammed onto St. Francis Field, which parents and coaches called a safety hazard.

After a tense Park Commission meeting that degenerated into a shouting match almost a year ago, officials and coaches agreed to consider lighting another field.

Hop Brook is not big enough to use for games, but two teams of 20 to 25 players can practice there, McGrath said. He plans to use the field for the “Mitey-Mite” division of 7- to 9-year-olds.

The field, behind Hop Brook Elementary School on Crown Street, is little used partly because of its proximity to the Hop Brook Golf Course. Parents and coaches have expressed anxiety about errant golf balls flying into the field.

When school is in session during golf season, the seventh tee is moved to angle away from the field. Golfing ends at sundown, so football players practicing at night will not be in danger, coaches and officials said.

Until 2008, the borough belonged to a Pop Warner league that included Prospect and Beacon Falls, which became a feeder program for football at the rival Woodland Regional High School. After the borough started its own Pop Warner teams as a feeder program for Naugatuck High School, enrollment soared. The league is still registering players for this fall at www.naugatuckhounds.com.

“If the league grows in the next few years, we’ll have to think about another site to put lights on,” McGrath said.