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Community in conflict over field use for kids’ football leagues; TOH to craft compromise


by Chrissy Ruggeri | Thu, Mar 30 2023
View of Vets Park fields.

A conflict between two of the community’s football clubs over field usage at Veteran’s Park in East Northport is nearing a potential resolution, as TOH leaders look to craft a compromise that satisfies both leagues.

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Earlier this month, Town of Huntington (TOH) Supervisor Ed Smyth executed a license agreement with the Northport Youth Football Club for its use of Veterans Park in East Northport; the football club under that name, however, no longer exists.

A schism in the league had been taking shape for months, after the Suffolk County Police Athletic League (PAL) disallowed the Northport Youth Football Club’s registration with the nonprofit program. As a result, there are now two kids’ football leagues in the Northport-East Northport community: the L.I. Knights (formerly known as the Youth Football Club) and the new PAL program called Northport Football Club.

Town of Huntington Communications Director Christine Geed told the Journal on Wednesday that neither the Knights nor the Northport Football Club had been issued permits to use Veterans Park, leading to a confusing conflict about field usage between the town’s Parks Department, league directors and parents of registrants. As of this morning, Councilman Dave Bennardo is said to be working with the Parks Department in finding a solution that satisfies both leagues.

In an email to the Journal today, Bennardo wrote, “The problem with these fields only came to our attention last Friday and we have asked the Parks Department to develop a fair and equitable solution… We know how important field space is to community groups, and have the utmost respect and appreciation for the coaches and parents who work with our children. With this understood, we have every intention of being as fair as possible in dividing field time.” The councilman told the Journal that a compromise between the two teams will be crafted.

The dissolution of the original club and division of leagues began with a November 2022 letter addressed to then-Northport Youth Football Club director Benjamin Carey, later obtained by the Journal. “We believe the relationship between your organization and the Suffolk County PAL Football League is beyond repair,” Suffolk County PAL Police Officer Brett Engmann wrote in the letter. “We will be moving forward with a new Northport football organization.”

Former leadership faced allegations of financial mismanagement and left the rebranded program – the L.I. Knights – with a $6,000 debt from TOH field permit fees.

A spokesperson from the Knights told the Journal that with the newly named team, the plan is to continue the same great traditions as the past decade, moving forward with new leadership and a more competitive league. The Knights inherited all debt, expenditures and revenue sources from the former PAL program, according to the spokesperson, and now accommodate players from Commack, Elwood and Harborfields, “while keeping everything else exactly the same,” they said.

According to the state’s Division of Corporations record, the Knights became a for-profit business corporation in November 2022, one week after the league lost its PAL affiliation.

The new PAL-affiliated organization, called Northport Football Club, has since enrolled 75% of the young football players and cheerleaders from the Youth Football league that lost its PAL status, totaling 222 registrants. Program directors Joseph Matuza and Brian Willie have been preparing to begin competition this fall, with eight football teams and over 100 cheerleaders.

In January, Willie told the Journal, the new PAL-organization entered into a verbal agreement with Todd Jameson and Walter Edwards at the TOH Parks Department, and Knights director Christian Alfaro (an Environmental Waste Laborer for the Town of Huntington), to share Veterans Park for both leagues’ games and practice.

One month later, Willie said, he was told by Jameson that the Knights alone would be given permits for park use because they incurred the previous league’s debt. The new PAL league would have access to Byrne Memorial Park on Clay Pitts Road and the Tri-Village fields in Greenlawn, both of which are used for baseball leagues and have no lined fields or goal posts, Willie said.

Matuza and Willie notified parents of the PAL Northport Football Club players last week about the field use issue, asking for their help in getting answers from the Town of Huntington about the status of their permit. In a letter to the Huntington Town Board shared with the Journal, Matuza wrote, “These are the same children that have always used the fields at Veterans Park. They deserve equal access. For-profit businesses and those with political connections should not dictate who gets to play and practice on those fields.”

The Parks Department did not return an email and request for comment from the Journal sent last week.

A spokesperson for the Knights said that the renamed team simply renewed their permits with the Town of Huntington “for the same exact fields and dates they’ve had for years.” The new PAL league, however, believes that because 75% of the former league players have moved over to their program, they deserve access to the fields. “The right of the field should stay with the kids who have been using them,” Willie explained.

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