NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – When Manuel Castaneda came across a bunch of young soccer players using garbage cans as goal posts in Kossuth Park, he knew the community could do better.
So, Wednesday’s unveiling of a new futsal field on Harvey Street was the fulfillment of a promise to give those kids an open-air, emerald oasis amidst the asphalt and concrete.
It was created with support from RWJ Barnabas Health and Robert Wood University Hospital through the Players Development Academy program. Together with the City of New Brunswick and other community partners, they’ve designed a small slice - 40-foot by 70-foot, to be precise – of soccer heaven.
After RWJ Barnabas President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky, New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill, RWJUH President and CEO Bill Arnold and others addressed the crowd that included tenants from the nearby Providence Square senior building who watched from their windows, students from the Greater Brunswick Charter School broke in the new field.
Like the one that opened in January at Joyce Kilmer Park, this futsal field comes complete with new turf and new fencing where the scaled-down version of soccer will be hotly contested on hot summer days - all other times of the year, too.
It’s the same strip of earth that Castaneda and his friends played kickball, football and other sports during his childhood. In recent years, he was happy to see kids returning to the park to play.
“What I didn’t like to see was that unfortunately they were using that asphalt stadium and they were using garbage cans as goalposts,” said Castaneda, a member of the city’s Planning Board and an active force in New Brunswick Tomorrow. “I said this can’t be. We need to do better.”
Mayor Cahill joked that they were going to break up into teams, which drew laughter from the crowd that included RWJUH Board of Trustees Chairman Jack Morris, Middlesex College’s New Brunswick Center Director Evelyn Rosa, Greater Brunswick Charter School Director Vanessa Jones and New Brunswick Police Captain/youth soccer director Michael Bobadilla.
Cahill talked about how the park’s creation dovetails into his vision of providing and maintaining green spaces - you might be surprised to learn that there's more than 270 acres of parks, playgrounds and athletic fields in the Hub City. He marveled at how the potential for so much fun and outdoor play could be packed into a relatively small space.
“I think it demonstrates the uniqueness of this type of facility – Joyce Kilmer Park, a much larger park with a lot more people going there,” he said. “Nevertheless, this type of field suits that ideally because of the ability for people to hone their skills, to develop their skills in a much smaller facility with a fence around, without having to chase a ball all the time. They can really focus, particularly for our younger people.”
Kids of all ages, really. For instance, Keith Jones II, the city’s director of Human and Community Services, remembered to dress in appropriate sports attire. After posing for photos with the suit-and-tie community leaders and corporate partners, he lined up a few balls and sent them sailing toward goal.
Not lost on Jones was the COVID-19 pandemic and how the world – even playtime – has been altered.
“This is something that we all have been waiting for, something we have all needed after a long year, year and a half of being shut in, shut out,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to get back outside, breathe the fresh air.”
For Ostrowsky, this was what being a good neighbor looks like: a sunny day, smiling faces and soccer balls being dribbled across the turf by kids.
“We are a community organization,” he said. “We have fancy buildings and all kinds of fancy, wonderful services and God forbid you’re sick and need them. But, every day we need this. My feeling has long been, why not invest in those things that people need every day. And, this is one such project.”