For almost 20 years, the Rockaway Ravens, an all volunteer nonprofit youth sports organization that offers cheerleading, soccer and football programs, have been part of the Far Rockaway community.
Without a single recreational football field on the peninsula, its football team had to shuffle between Far Rockaway High School and Beach Channel High School football fields for practice for years. Then, with the support of then-Councilman and current state Senator James Sanders, the Ravens petitioned for a field.
And when Rockaway Parks, a $30 million investment in recreation areas in Far Rockaway, opened on Aug. 6, 2012, the team finally had a gridiron they could call home.
Located on Beach 32nd and a mere “Hail Mary” pass away from the Atlantic Ocean — with the boardwalk serving as a divider — the players got to practice and play against other teams on their “field of dreams.”
Only a few months later, on Oct. 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit New York City. The Category 1 hurricane battered the Rockaways, and a 10-foot storm surge flooded the peninsula, demolishing homes and leaving many residents without shelter.
Sandy’s wrath also destroyed the football field.
Dexter Archbold, president and founder of the Rockaway Ravens, said the ground was covered in about three to four feet of sand after the surge moved out.
“You couldn’t see the green top. You couldn’t see the benches — nothing. Everything was completely covered,” Archbold said.
Archbold said that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) did a great job removing the sand from the field.
But the saltwater eroded the shock padding — a layer below the turf that provides safety during athletic activities — and turned the turf, which should feel like a shag carpet, into a matted, sandpaper-like flat rug sitting on concrete.
Even though the synthetic grass was still under warranty, the company that had installed the turf refused to replace it because they claimed the hurricane was an “act of nature.”
Archbold said from what he understands, there was a lot of back and forth between DPR and the builder, and that they went to court.
Almost nine years later, the field — the only public recreational football field on the Peninsula — is still in the same condition.
Looking at the field and the players practicing tackles and blocks, he said, “I don’t know what the outcome is. But this is what we have to play with until better can be done.”
“So, we are talking to anybody who is willing to listen,” Archbold said.
He admitted that it would be bittersweet to find a temporary home once the field undergoes a complete renovation, but that it needs to be done for the safety of his players and other teams. Archbold shared that some opposing teams don’t even want to play on the Ravens’ home turf because it isn’t safe and rather petition the commissioner to change the location or forfeit a game.
“I’m tired of kids coming up with turf burns and scrapes and marks. The kids are getting hurt … scrapes to the white meat,” Archbold said. “They’re engaging in a tackle. If it’s a high-speed chase and they break down, engage and tackle and with that momentum, they slide, and any exposed skin is going to stick to the turf.”
Archbold estimates that the renovation would take a year and cost approximately $1.5 million.
In addition to the dangerous condition of the field, the scoreboard isn’t working, and one of the gates can’t be locked properly because the foundation has shifted.
“Even the lines — my son and I painted the lines. We spent the money, brought the machine, brought the paint because you couldn’t see them,” he said. “No one from Parks Department is really maintaining the field. The last conversation I had, it was blamed on COVID, that everybody was indoors and nobody was doing inspections, and things of that nature. But this didn’t happen yesterday. That’s the sad part about it.”
He had praise for the city park staff on site, though.
“They do clean up, and I’m so appreciative,” he said. “They work hard to try to maintain and keep the debris and the garbage off the field.”
QNS asked DPR why the field has been in this condition for almost nine years and if the department had any plans to renovate the field in the near future.
“We take pride in maintaining this heavily used green space to provide Rockaway Beach’s young athletes and families with quality open space,” a DPR spokesperson stated. “Beach 32 Field is currently in good condition, and we have no plans or funding in place to renovate the field at this time.”
The department also said it would deploy a team to re-inspect the field in the coming week, but didn’t provide any information about the lawsuit Archbold mentioned.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards’ office referred QNS to DPR, but said in a statement that the Richards “has always been and still remains a strong supporter of the Rockaway Ravens, whom he has provided funding for in the past.”
Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers stopped by for a tour to see firsthand what condition the field is in and listened to Archbold’s and the coaches’ concerns.
The first-term councilwoman explained that the city had already adopted the budget for the fiscal year 2022. Brooks-Powers, a former track and field athlete, understood that the players, who are between the ages of 8 and 13, play under less-than-stellar conditions.
“We do have some post-adoption funds in terms of park equity money, so I’m going to talk to the Parks Department to see what’s possible,” she said. “It shouldn’t be like that.”
She suggested that they could also explore a private-public partnership to finance the new field.
“Or we can get one of the sports teams that may be willing to contribute also,” Brooks-Powers said.
She also promised to reach out to the DPR and address the overgrown weeds behind the bleachers.
“We actually met with the Department of Sanitation Commissioner a few weeks ago. We came right over here, and this is one of the areas we highlighted for them,” Brooks-Powers said.
Archbold is proud that the Ravens, who have won a host of championships and can claim Jets defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi as one of their own, are “truly Rockaway” with all players living in the community.
He explained that the coaches prepare the players for high school football, giving them a shot at a scholarship at a private high school.
“Then they take those opportunities, and they go on to college,” Archbold said.
He also noted his son, Brendan, one of the 15 volunteer Ravens coaches, also received an athletic scholarship.
“He and countless others had free scholarships to college, four-year rides,” Archbold said. “My son played two collegiate championships at Liu Post, and now they are here giving back.”