NEWTON, NJ – Beaming with Newton Pride, Superintendant Dr. Kennedy Greene, members of the Newton Board of Education, the maintenance staff and elected officials in the community stood shoulder to shoulder in a ribbon cutting ceremony dedicating the new AstroTurf field at Newton High School. Facing the home bleachers, Dr. Greene stood at the top of a giant maroon letter N emblazoned across midfield as he gave his address.
“It is my pleasure to welcome you today to the grand opening of this beautiful, brand new, synthetic turf surface at Palmer Field,” began Greene. “It was dedicated years ago to the memory of Sydenham Palmer, the board secretary of the Newton Public Schools from 1930 through 1959. Mr. Palmer began the process by which eventually these lands, which have become the athletic fields of the Newton High School campus, were acquired from the Heyns, the Otts, the Earls, the Hardens, the Slikers, and the Morvilles.”
He thanked the Board of Education, the High School Administration, the maintenance staff, School Business Administrator Donna Snyder, the professionals who completed the work, and the Town Council, including Mayor Sandy Diglio, Kristen Becker, Joe Ricciardo, Kevin Elvidge, Dan Flynn, and officials of Andover and Green, including Andover’s Deputy Mayor and candidate for Freeholder Gail Phoebus, who was in attendance.
Green also explained the integral part that the Newton Pride Foundation has played, not only in this project, but also in donations to the library, the band, the auditorium, and Newton’s state-of-the-art fitness center.
Immediately following the ceremony, the Newton Girls’ Soccer team took the field. The girls were very excited about playing on the new field.
“It’s wonderful! This is such a nice change from Abby field,” said Steph Ahmed.
“It’s easier to play on because it’s all one surface,” agreed Alyssa Petry. “Our old soccer field was full of rocks and places with no grass.”
“This field is generating so much inter-team camaraderie,” expressed Barbara Propek, a member of the Newton Pride Foundation. “There are kids here who aren’t playing until 7:00p.m. tonight, who are here supporting other teams.”
Her son, football and lacrosse player Matthew agreed, “It’s awesome. You do things like this, (nodding to the crowd) you’ll get more people out. (The turf) makes the game a lot faster and more exciting to watch. All day events like this boost school pride.”
He continued, “Look, the girls’ soccer team never used to have many people come out to watch, today, they have a pretty good crowd. It should get bigger and bigger.”
“They can play all different sports here, it’s lined for football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse,” said his friend Shane Gallichio.
Previously, only football was played on this field. All the other sports were played at The Abbey, or Memory Park and required busing. Brand new lighting on the field also makes night games possible. Mike Morel, from Newton Pride Foundation said, “It will be very exciting, a whole new experience to play at night. This will bring out lots of people, and having the ability to stay here after school will add to the support of all teams.”
“We actually played our first home game here last weekend,” said Al Kaiser, president of the Newton Youth Football Program. “The whole experience was great. The opposing team, the parents, everyone loved it. We are grateful we have the opportunity to play on the field. It will be a big draw for new kids to join the team when they have an opportunity to play on a nice field like this.”
Kids can join the youth program as young as five years old, where they play flag football at Memory Park. The sixth through eighth graders will be able to play on the turf.
Throughout the morning, the excitement mounted. During halftime, Coach Jake Mull had selected the ’92-’93 Girls’ Soccer Team to be honored, as they were the first girls’ team ever to win a game. Present for the ceremony were alumni Becky Chase Freeman, Fatimah Blake, Tinesha Williams, Stacey Price and Bridget Brennan-Jones, who after graduating became the varsity girls’ soccer coach, with Jake Mull for ten years.
Four games were scheduled for the day, after girls’ soccer, the boy’s soccer team took the field, at 3p.m., there was a field hockey game against Wallkill Valley, and at 7p.m., football against Hanover. During half-time in each game, alumni teams were being honored: 1992-93 Girls’ Soccer, 1998-99 Boys Soccer, 2003-04 Field Hockey, and 1984-85 Football.
According to Greene, the $1.2 million field was paid for entirely within the 2012-2013 school budget, with only a 1% tax increase. This was accomplished by a combination of several one-time revenues, as well as some strategic changes within the district, none of which included letting go teachers. The biggest one was switching from a private insurance carrier to the state plan. This move saved the district $600,000, while still providing equivalent coverage.
The Newton Pride Foundation hosted an information tent, where they were raffling off Newton athletic wear, and accepting pledges, throughout the day. The foundation’s mission is to ensure excellence in public education through the use of private resources, and to strengthen community involvement in the schools. They promote building community-school partnerships.
They have committed to seeing this project through several phases, the turf field, lighting and scoreboard being only a part of Phase I. The remainder of this phase includes resurfacing the track. Phase II involves the construction of 3 tennis courts and a small parking area in the northwest corner, a basketball court next to the maintenance building, and the modification of the existing basketball/tennis courts into additional parking. The third phase would add another turf field lined either for a)soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and football or b) baseball and softball.
To raise the additional monies needed, the foundation is accepting pledges from individuals or businesses, and has naming opportunities for various aspects of the athletic area, including the bleachers, scoreboard, concession stand, and brick pavers in the new area.
Also on display at the Newton Pride Foundation’s tent were student-created versions of how the new areas would look. “Mr. Bennington is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher. His students used CAD (computer aided design) to make these 3-D projections of Newton’s new fields,” said Propek. “Mr. Bennington is also the lacrosse coach, and he videotapes all the football games, so he has a vested interest in the outcomes. The kids are begging to get into his class, they love the hands-on experience of creating something real.”
“This field is something the community can be very proud of. It’s good for property values. You’ll have less 'For Sale' signs if people want to come to your community,” said Propek. “I am so impressed with what Newton High School has to offer. I moved here two years ago from Bergen County, and I looked at many schools. My son likes sports and my daughter was in a play. They have spectacular theater here. It is a spectacular music department. Our chorus sang at Carnegie Hall. This year, they will go to Disney to compete.”
After the athletic project is completed, the Newton Pride Foundation is looking ahead.nIdeas solicited from the educational community include a new sound system for the auditorium.