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Editorial: A sporting chance for Fosdick Field

High school athletics puts major emphasis on teamwork. That is a quality required to make a new athletic field next to City Honors School come to fruition. It is worth the effort.

A revamped Fosdick Field would not merely give City Honors students a place to play; indeed, the school wouldn’t necessarily even have first claim to it. It would also host games for other Buffalo Public Schools teams, which never seem to have enough playing fields to go around.

In addition, the field would be open to the public for many hours when it wasn’t being used for school games or practices. That’s not a trivial thing for residents of the Fruit Belt, who could use more recreational amenities.

The City Honors/Fosdick-Masten Park Foundation, a nonprofit that grew out of a parents’ group, purchased the four-acre Fosdick Field site from the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority in 2016. The foundation owes the BMHA a $2 million payment that came due over the summer. The BMHA has given the organization a grace period, but the foundation knows it will have to come up with the money soon.

Here’s the plan: The City Honors foundation is looking for the Buffalo Public Schools to step in to help, and to eventually take ownership of the field. Foundation members are to meet with Superintendent Kriner Cash this week.

The foundation has floated the idea of a sort of barter arrangement, in which the school district would agree to give one or more empty, unused school buildings to the BMHA in exchange for lowering the amount the foundation owes. The district has not committed to the idea, but it’s worth strong consideration. The BMHA would presumably develop the mothballed building into public housing, turning an idle asset into a public benefit.

The school district says it cannot make such a trade due to the New York State Constitution’s prohibition against “gifting public funds or property.”

It will be a shame if they can't work out something. Helping to make the new field happen would provide tangible benefits for athletes throughout the district while showing good will toward the Fruit Belt community. Soccer, for example, is an international game, and Buffalo schools have students from around the world who excel at the sport. It would be nice if they could showcase their skills on fields that are comparable in quality to those enjoyed by suburban players. Many city athletic contests are held on less than stellar playing surfaces.

The foundation’s $2 million payment was due June 24. BMHA Executive Director Gillian Brown has told the foundation he is obligated to file a certificate with the Erie County Clerk’s Office rescinding the title to the property if the payment is not settled soon.

Brown deserves credit for his willingness to work with the foundation toward a solution, an example of the teamwork needed to make the $3.5 million athletic facility a reality.
The foundation has raised $600,000 for the project and is confident it can find more funds.

Fosdick Field served the school and the neighborhood from 1897 to 1977. The BMHA acquired the property in 1977 for construction of the Woodson Gardens housing development. The development was demolished in 2013. The foundation’s project would restore the field to its original purpose.

A revitalized Fosdick Field would be a welcome benefit to the neighborhood. In 2017, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation released a report by the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program on recreational opportunities called the “State of Play.” The report gave Western New York an overall grade of C-plus for getting kids active through sports.

It found that only 16% of youth in the region were getting the one hour of daily physical activity that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The State of Play report said that preparing the region’s youth for the future involves more than just cognitive skills; they also need “physical literacy … If children can be engaged in regular sports and physical activity before age 12, a virtuous cycle gets unleashed.”

Let’s hope that more young Fruit Belt residents get that opportunity. Some teamwork among leaders of the school district, BMHA and the foundation can make it happen.

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