Editorial: Town's fields need a wide-angle lens

Posted 1/12/22

It may take a decade to overhaul the playing fields in Barrington. Many of the people who draw up plans today will have moved out of town, their children grown past youth sports, before plans come to …

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Editorial: Town's fields need a wide-angle lens

Posted

It may take a decade to overhaul the playing fields in Barrington. Many of the people who draw up plans today will have moved out of town, their children grown past youth sports, before plans come to fruition.

But it’s still the right thing to do for this town.

With its gorgeous geography, upper-class housing stock, vast open spaces and strong schools, Barrington attracts families. Families have kids, and kids play sports. Families want their kids to play sports, because it’s a wonderfully healthy alternative to screens. These have been Barrington attributes for generations, ever since a housing boom and the growth of youth sports in the 1970s and ’80s.

One might wonder how a town built around families, with sports a constant for generations, grew to have such an underwhelming collection of sports facilities. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Forty years ago, Barrington had a vast fields complex, with ample parking and lots of fields — enough to meet all the needs of a burgeoning soccer league. It was St. Andrew’s School, which graciously shared its acres of open space with the larger community.

Obviously things changed. St. Andrew’s nudged the town out, invested heavily in its campus and today is an elite boarding school with spectacular recreational facilities, some of which it rents to private clubs.

Barrington was caught off guard and never made plans of its own. Instead, it has spent decades wedging fields into what few spaces are available. A softball field here, a new multipurpose field there. The result is a hodgepodge of athletic facilities, with baseball fields overlapping soccer fields, lacrosse fields bumping up against parking lots, and everyone bemoaning the poor drainage that closes dozens of fields for days.

Beyond the poorly drained fields are the poorly designed facilities. Visit Chianese on a Saturday morning in the spring, as Tahoes and Suburbans try to squeeze into narrow parking spaces with lacrosse players darting through the congestion. Witness Haines Park on a Sunday, the narrow, two-way road reduced to a single lane of travel, with cars strewn through the complex, many spilling out onto Washington Road, with soccer and football players scrambling through the cars to find their teams.

See coaches jockeying for practice slots during the week, on fields they share with different age groups, different sports. Recognize the chaos that ensues when the weather turns wet — away games that continue as planned, with entire weekends of home games washed away.

Consider all the places where baseball outfields and multipurpose fields overlap — Haines, Chianese, the middle school, the high school, Bicknell — all designed with built-in conflicts. On paper they look like multi-sport facilities, but that’s only if the sports don’t play at the same time.

The problem isn’t a field, or a complex. It’s all of them.

Here’s how to make them better:

  • Reconsider everything;
  • Ask how every available space could be redesigned for efficiency (including access, parking and field orientation);
  • Group sports together (creating efficiencies in scheduling and coordination);
  • Coordinate all the facilities into one long-term plan;
  • Seek outside funding to support it, including private groups, sponsors and the state;
  • Make improvements in phases, knowing it may take 10 years to reach the finish line.

This is a family town. This is a sports town. It has been for 50 years. It’s time to acknowledge that, and it’s ok to invest in that. There are thousands of frustrated parents who expect better than this.

2022 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Media Group team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaymediagroup.com.