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For Williamsville, a do-over on naming school athletic fields

It looks like the Williamsville North Spartans will not be playing on Dr. Scott Martzloff Field – at least not this fall.

The Williamsville Central School Board Wednesday night rescinded an action from its last meeting that named the Williamsville North High School athletic complex for current superintendent Scott Martzloff; the new Williamsville East field for the late James Rusin, a longtime athletic director; and the new Williamsville South field after retiring Athletic Director Kevin Lester.

"I firmly believe the board made a mistake. I know I made a mistake," newly elected board President Shawn P. Lemay said. "I think something like this needs to be in the community's hands."

The board's action at its June 13 meeting left some in the board room and community scratching their heads that the board would name an athletic complex for a sitting superintendent.

Outgoing Board member Michael J. Schmidt made the proposal at the end of his last meeting, and it was approved in a 5 to 3 vote. He credited Martzloff with the $27 million improvements to the three fields.

Martzloff declined the nomination that night, noting he is going into his seventh year in the district, not nearly long enough for such an honor.

"As I enter my seventh year in the school district, it was the worst process I have ever seen. It was rushed, it was too fast," Martzloff said on Wednesday night.

He also said he felt uncomfortable for Lester, who had emailed him after receiving the honor, and for Rusin's family. He said they had not been contacted before the fields were named.

But he added: "It's not fair to them to turn around and reverse this vote when it's already been advertised."

Several board members said they did not want to disrespect anyone, but felt the issue should have more community input.

Lemay said he couldn't sleep after the last meeting.

"We were very sloppy, we did not follow any open forum. We dropped the ball on this. It's embarrassing, at least to me," he said.

Toni Vazquez, board member and former board president, abstained on the vote Wednesday. She asked the board how it would decide what issues require a board decision, and which require community input. She noted that the board decided not to place Indigenous Peoples Day on the district calendar last year.

"I think we are approaching a very slippery slope if we rescind the vote," Vazquez said. "When do we decide when naming rights are community rights and when they are board rights? That’s the slippery slope we are on and I don’t know the answer to that."

Newly elected Vice President Teresa Leatherbarrow said she regrets not speaking up against the proposal at the last meeting.

"It caught me off guard," she said. "In retrospect, I should have gotten it together and spoken against it. I just don’t believe we as a board have any authority to name those fields."

Leatherbarrow suggested not naming the fields as an option.

"At this point we need to just back off," she said.

Martzloff, the superintendent, said he was honored by the gesture, but he does not want people thinking he advanced a $27 million facilities improvement so he could have his name attached to a field.

The board did not make any plans on how it would seek community input, but suggested administrators should investigate whether they should be named or not.

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