Montclair Board of Ed Officials: Lights Out--For Now--at Woodman Field

Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
Credits: DaniJace on flickr
Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett

MONTCLAIR, NJ – A meeting of the Board of Education was held in the Montclair High School auditorium on Monday. Close to 100 people, many of whom had come to discuss the night football game and lighting of Woodman Field, were in attendance.

Board President David Deutsch opened by reading a memo to the community. He expressed that he hoped it would address the public’s concerns about the night game. On Sept. 18 via memo, Deutsch told the audience that the board supported the decision to hold a night game. He expressed that it was a one-time decision and that neither the board nor the superintendent have decided to plan to install permanent lights.

Deutsch read, ”The decision to hold a night game was strictly a one-time decision.  In spite of rumors to the contrary, neither the Board nor the Superintendent have been presented with a plan to install permanent lights at either Woodman or Fortunato fields. The Board and the Superintendent have not proposed a plan to install permanent lights.  And so far as I am aware, the Board and the Superintendent have not been presented with a request for future night football games."

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The memo closed by saying that the board will only make a decision in the future after consulting with the public.

The meeting opened with a presentation from Superintendent Penny MacCormick on the Strategic Plan. A presentation followed on the district's technology plan. A discussion ensured regarding internet safety for students and the technology use agreement.

Deutsch opened the public comment portion of the meeting by randomly calling on people who signed up to approach the microphone.

While most people who spoke were supporters of lights, a few neighbors expressed their dissatisfaction. The common thread amongst the opposers of the night game, was that the Board of Education did not notify the neighbors who would be affected, who found out about it through hearsay and third-party conversation. They also were concerned that the game was played during the week (although virtually all high school football games are played on Fridays and Saturdays except in the event of holidays).

Formal explanation was given to the board and the community from Deutsch that the night game was planned for Thursday because of the observance of the Jewish holiday.

Christopher Smith, who is a representative of Pop Warner, said, “We express our desire to have lights.” He added that all of his players were there and that lighting Woodman Field would provide a safe place. “I am disappointed that people had signs,” he added.

Steven Bidwa, who lives near Woodman Field, said that his wife and two kids were disturbed by the lights and noise. “Our major concern was that it was a Thursday night and my kids couldn’t go to sleep until 10:30. We would all appreciate a little bit of fore notice.”

Frank Best, vice-president of Montclair Bulldogs organization, said, “I didn’t see any vandalism, I didn’t see anyone taunted, the lights will be an asset.” He added, “We should be able to have lights at Woodman Field. All surrounding cities have lights at their schools.” Then he turned to the audience saying, “Why would you buy a house next to a field?” His commentary resulted in an eruption of applause from those in the room.

Andrew Garda, coach for the Bulldogs, said that he supported the lights and asked for everyone’s opinion to be heard. “I support lights. We should bring in all stakeholders…”

Some of the coaches for the Pop Warner team spoke up and expressed that not having lights poses a safety issue. As the winter months get nearer, it begins to get dark as early as 4:30 p.m. while students are practicing. Residents and coaches alike, asked for the opportunity of being able to sit at the table when the Board of Education and superintendent have the discussion regarding lights around Woodman Field.

Resident James Eason said, “If you live next to a school, parks, funeral homes, you are going to have activities.” He added, “To dictate what goes on, this is not a gated community. Montclair only plays 4-5 home games per year. …We also need lights for practice.”

Mutia, a neighbor who lives around Woodman Field, said, "I am against night lights. It will cause a lot of problems that don’t normally occur like people urinating on lawns. ....The next morning, my kids were complaining because they couldn't get up to go to school." She requested a seat at the table during future discussion about night games.

Abdul Aleem Muhammad, who lives near Woodman Field, said, “I coach little league football and I am a retired police officer. Lights is a safety and security situation not just for games (but for)..practices. “It is not fair to hold the whole town in a headlock because of the lights. It is unfair to put them at a disadvantage. I am asking the board to put the lights up for safety.” His commentary was met with applause.

Sarah Rosenheck said, “We weren’t given any notice on Montclair avenue. We didn’t find out about it until we were at a block party on Sunday.” She said that kids started lighting firecrackers, kicked and smashed the sign down from her lawn and threw it onto her other neighbors lawn. “I hope our voices are heard.”

Robert Bigelow, who lives near the field said, “ I am here in support of the lights. I have lived in Montclair for 15 years and grew up in Colorado where it (football) was a big part of the community. Bigelow coaches youth football with Pop Warner and girl’s lacrosse. “It’s very dark. It gets dark earlier. It is a safety issue. The youth would benefit from having lights on the field.”

Many more speakers approached the microphone to express their opinions.

A small few amount of neighbors expressed that they did not want lights on Woodman Field, They were mostly concerned about the game occurring on a school night and the lack of advance notice given from the school district.

Some of the neighbors even suggested that they would be amenable to having night games, if only the board would promise that the games would be on weekends so that it would not disrupt their children's sleep patterns.

Most of the supporters and opposers of lights around Woodman Field spoke eloquently and made their positions clear. However, A disruption to the meeting occurred at the end when Deutsch closed out the meeting by saying that he would not allow any more comment and had skipped over former councilman and retired Deputy Police Chief Roger Terry's name.

Terry admonished Deutsch by saying that when he was on the council, there was a reason that he went in order so as not to skip over anyone's name. Other board members urged Deutsch to allow Terry to speak, Deutsch replied by telling them that he would email Terry.

As Terry stormed out of the meeting, so did the crowd, leaving less than 10 people sitting in the audience to conclude the meeting.

All items on the agenda were approved.

10/7/14 Update: TAP into Montclair spoke with Deutsch who explained in an email, "I called names out of order on the sign-in sheet to ensure the Board heard a broad set of opinions, which I thought would not have been the case had I selected speakers stictly in order.  I didn't call on Mr. Terry because he filled his name in the address box and the name in the name box was crossed out -- I simply didn't see his name.  I sent him a note of apology last night and invited him to speak first at the next meeting, if he still would like to address the Board."


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