Greenwich’s athletic facilities need our attention

Frank Farricker Greenwich VoicesThis past weekend I took a trip to the Dallas suburbs where my son was playing in a water polo tournament.

The event was a national meet, with teams from California, Florida, Chicago, and Greenwich and which, by tradition and convenience, is played in the middle of the country. In past years, it was played at the University of Michigan and this year it was played at Lewisville High School, about five miles from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

Lewisville High School has about 3,200 students, not much more than Greenwich High School, and has a state-of-the-art swimming facility, comprising stands with a capacity for 2,000, multiple Olympic-quality pools, diving wells, medical rooms, training rooms, and bathrooms that would be at home in a luxury hotel. This and other facilities to be proud of are something that Greenwich, to be quite charitable, does not have.

Its not that Lewisville is some tax-and-spend utopia either. It’s a rock Republican town in deep red, tax-phobic Texas. Yet this town has decided that building the best for themselves and their children is something that reflects the value of its residents and found a way to raise the money to do so. Sadly, here in Greenwich when it comes to athletic fields and facilities for our children, many just don’t want to do so.

That is a choice that not only reflects poorly on our community, but runs pretty clearly against the perception of our town as having the ability and desire for the best.

A quick inventory of our facilities show just how deeply we have neglected this sector over the past 50 years. Though we have enormous demand for hockey and countless figure skating hopefuls, the Dorothy Hamill Rink, constructed in 1970 and lightly upgraded since, pales in comparison to rinks in just about every other Fairfield County town. Our past state champion Greenwich High football team is in a stadium significantly worse than the one far less affluent Bridgeport plays in. It has no locker rooms and we don’t even have bathroom facilities at the field.

GHS has a pool also from 1970. I remember being excited to play baseball “under the lights” at Byram Park when I was 9 years old and yet it’s 41 years later and it still remains the premier baseball and softball field in town. The one potential new field, at former site of the Cos Cob power plant, remains unfinished for want of a relatively small amount of money.

All of this despite the fact that Greenwich is seemingly sports mad, with parents — myself included — spending for coaches, travel teams and training at an especially high rate. Many of are traveling ourselves to Stamford or Norwalk or into Westchester because what we have in Greenwich is so substandard. And on the occasions when the travel teams come here, it’s a chronic point of mention for the visitors to ask if we really are as wealthy as we seem to be portrayed.

These travel teams have a baseball stadium, a swimming facility, a bathroom for the fans at their high school field, and we don’t.

It’s not like we have to spend this money. It is a choice that all communities make. But it’s not an ideological one and we’re not doing what many other places, like Lewisville, Texas, do. It’s not as though we haven’t seen the results of this kind of investment either. Greenwich made the choice 50 years ago when it built those facilities and in exchange we got hall of famers and Olympic gold medalists. But like my mother remarked when she sold the house I grew up in and the buyer wanted a reduction in price because the kitchen needed to be redone, “Didn’t we just put in a new one?” In fact, it had been done 25 years ago.

It’s time we acknowledge that athletics have been very good to our town and very good to our children and we should prioritize its importance with the facilities that they, and we, deserve.

Frank Farricker is the chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee but the opinions presented here are his own.

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