Editorial: Dreams of fields in Barrington

Posted 9/22/21

Three years ago, the Barrington town manager floated a proposal to more than double the fee for 6-year-olds to chase a soccer ball across a bumpy patch of grass, or smack a T-ball through a scratchy …

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Editorial: Dreams of fields in Barrington

Posted

Three years ago, the Barrington town manager floated a proposal to more than double the fee for 6-year-olds to chase a soccer ball across a bumpy patch of grass, or smack a T-ball through a scratchy infield. The flawed idea was to raise more money from all those pesky youth sports leagues, and the additional $75,000 per year would somehow lead to better recreational facilities in Barrington.

Thankfully, many of those pesky youth sports league organizers spoke out in bewilderment, and the Barrington Town Council listened to them. The 150 percent increase in field fees was never approved.

Unfortunately, not much has changed since then with the town’s recreational and sports facilities. Barrington still has the single worst collection of sports fields in the state of Rhode Island.

Back in 2018, when the town was talking about creating better facilities, it was experiencing the temporary setback of losing the entire middle school athletic complex while a new school was under construction. That school is now in its third year of use, and its fields were recently opened for the first time since 2017, and the impact is … underwhelming.

An enormous swath of land has been set aside for future baseball games, and a small patch of grass has begun hosting some of the youngest soccer players in town for happy Saturday games. The school itself is spectacular, and the basketball and tennis courts are great additions to the town, but it’s disappointing to realize this $65 million investment created one small rectangle of grass for the thousands of young athletes in town.

It’s even more disappointing to realize this is the only improvement to the town’s outdoor sports facilities in many years.

In so many ways, Barrington is the poorest “rich” town in the state. Blessed with beautiful coastlines, magnificent homes, tree-covered streets and a walkable community, Barrington offers the least impressive athletic fields in the state. Ask a collection of Barrington parents who traveled up to Central Falls for a youth soccer game on Sunday. To reach their destination, they navigated through one of the poorest urban settings in Rhode Island and passed the federal detention center wrapped in three layers of barbed wire. Sitting beside the prison is a gleaming turf field where Central Falls High School plays all its home games, and a half-mile down the road is a newly constructed athletic field, with deep green grass, a perfect crown for drainage and plenty of room for teams and spectators. Shoved between industrial warehouses and three-story, multi-family homes, it is a better field than any in Barrington, including beloved “Victory Field.”

How can Barrington improve its own facilities?

1. Install artificial turf at Victory Field. It’s time. The reality is that none of the high school fields can be considered exceptional. They are all adequate. Turf would change that immediately, and most importantly, it would dramatically expand scheduling and utilization opportunities for all high school sports.

2. Develop a real proposal to improve Haines Park — one with more fields, more parking and more utilization of space. This is the least impressive state park in Rhode Island, with extremely low usage by anyone. Imagine wiping the canvas clean and creating a dramatically new park, with improvements to traffic flow, neighborhood buffers and a lot more field space. Piecemeal improvements are a waste of money.

3. Package items 1 and 2 above into a public bond referendum, to match with state or federal grants. Let voters decide if they want to make a long-term investment in sports and recreation here in Barrington.

Maybe the next town manager could take a lead in this effort.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.