NAUGATUCK — A year after the borough’s Pop Warner football program fought with the Naugatuck Youth Soccer league over lighted field space, about 35 football players between 7 and 9 years old are practicing under newly installed lights at Hop Brook Field.
Four poles, each carrying four 1,000-watt bulbs, went up recently around the field behind Hop Brook Elementary School on Crown Street, said Paul McGrath, president of Pop Warner in the borough. The lighting setup, similar to that of St. Francis Field downtown, solves for now the shortage of practice field space the football program faced as the days got shorter, McGrath said.
McGrath and another coach each supervise a team of Mitey-Mites, which have about 17 players each and practice for two hours three times a week at Hop Brook.
“They thought it was neat because it was getting pretty dark before this where we couldn’t really practice so easily,” McGrath said.
McGrath tries to hold practice from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., but has had to end early because the field grew pitch dark around 7:15 p.m., he said. The other coach has to hold practice between 6 and 8 p.m. due to his work schedule, so his sessions were being cut almost in half, McGrath said.
The coaches can hold full-length practices again now that the lights have been installed.
“The kids are getting better,” McGrath said. “They’re getting more experience.”
At the start of the season, when the days are longer, the league practices on unlit fields such as Fawn Meadow or Legion Field, but as darkness came earlier they were restricted to St. Francis Field and whatever practice fields the high school freshman team and marching band were not using. Some nights last year, as many as 70 Pop Warner players were crammed onto St. Francis Field.
“Now that we have more space for practicing, they’re getting better,” McGrath said of the players. “We’d all be piled up at St. Francis.”
The football league paid $25,000 for the lights to be installed, in exchange for primary field rights between Aug. 1 and Nov. 30. The borough is paying electrical and maintenance costs for the lights, which are only turned on during football practice, McGrath said.
Parents and coaches initially expressed reservations about using the field because golf balls sometimes fly in from the nearby Hop Brook Golf Course. McGrath said he has seen golf balls lying around one end of the field, but the teams stay away from that area. Golfing ends as darkness falls, so nighttime practices are not much affected, he said.
McGrath said a third team will practice on Hop Brook Field late next year, when the upper field at Naugatuck High School will be used as a staging area for the school’s renovation project.
“It’s going to be really good for us next year,” McGrath said.