League fights for equal time on field
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Aug 4, 2014, 15:29
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The Hope 4 Youth Football League held a protest July 27 in Ashford Plaza to fight for more time on Merner Field.
HOPEWELL — One field, two leagues, and only four dates for Merner Field have caused a source of contention in the city of Hopewell. Despite protests in Ashford Plaza and time before City Council at the meeting in July, no solutions have been provided.
The Hope 4 Youth Football Association was formed last year by current president Antonio Monroe, and for the upcoming season, more than 100 children are registered for football and cheerleading.
Monroe started the league out of the need for a cheaper alternative to the other league in the city, The Hopewell Youth Football League, formerly the Quarterback Club.
A letter sent from the Hopewell School Board dated June 30 and signed by Dr. John Fahey states that the school system, which has ownership of the field, will not permit the Hope 4 Youth League to play games on Merner Field.
“School Administration has determined that they will only allow the four game dates for the Hopewell Youth Football League. Overuse of Merner Field can no longer be the norm,” as stated in the letter.
The letter also suggests that the two leagues meet and try to merger, eliminating the issue.
“The City of Hopewell and School Administration have collectively agreed to the items noted, and we strongly suggest that the two leagues meet to see how they can unite and merge the leagues to simplify scheduling and eliminate customer confusion thereby allowing the youth to play football as a united City of Hopewell.”
When Monroe received the letter, he along with several parents and children in the league, came before council on July 8 to speak out and fight for time on the field.
“Those 98 kids are not good enough for Hopewell is basically what this letter is saying,” Monroe said to members of council. “I’m disgusted with the School Board and our city because they continue to deny the youth.”
Councilor Brenda Pelham spoke out for the league saying that the time needed to be divided equally.
“There needs to be reconsideration and to divide it equally. That would be great,” Pelham said. “All the kids can benefit from playing on an actual professional field. That just seems so reasonable to me.”
Almost a month since parents and members of the Hope 4 Youth league stood before council, Monroe said no answers have been provided and no solutions were presented. The team decided to continue to stand together in Ashford Plaza and have their voice heard again.
On Monday, July 28, Hope 4 Youth held a protest, continuing to fight for time on Merner Field.
“The Devils [Hopewell Youth Football League] they have four days on that field,” Monroe said. “They have four games and we have none. ... If wear and tear is a problem on the field then they should divide the games equally among both our leagues.”
Other members of the community came out to speak in support of the Hopewell Dolphins. Tamara Blow, secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke at the protest and said the lack of acknowledgement and time on the field for the Dolphins is a form of discrimination.
“It’s not fair to discriminate against any children,” Blow said. “All children should have access, so that’s why we’re here today.”
A letter from the SCLC, signed by the Rev. Dr. Sylvia Tucker, president of the area SCLC, also speaks out in support of the Dolphins.
“Some city officials may believe two private leagues are not good, but they have no right to force a merger by blackmailing a group out of existence. Both organizations are established and have a high level of participation and both deserve the right to use the city’s facilities.”
Another issue that has been brought to the attention of members of the School Board and members of City Council is a felony charge against Monroe.
Monroe faced a felony charge of possession with intent to distribute a schedule II controlled substance in Hopewell in Oct. 24, 2002, and was arrested on Jan. 20, 2003. An example of a schedule II substance would be cocaine or methamphetamine.
He was sentenced to five years, with four years and five months of that time suspended.
Due to the regulations of the Virginia Youth Football League, of which both teams are members, Monroe said he was asked to step down from coaching. He said he is currently in the appeals process saying when the VYFL completed his background check, the felony charge did not read correctly.
“The intent to eliminate Mr. Monroe is clear and is not warranted. Mr Monroe is a perfect example of the type of mentor that can reach these kids,” the letter from SCLC reads. “As a teenager he was convicted or a drug crime and has since turned his life around, gotten married, and started a wonderful family.”
While Monroe has stepped down as a coach, he still remains the president of the league and Clint Gorkiewicz has stepped in as a coach.
“There’s nothing different about these kids and the kids they have,” Gorkiewicz said at the protest Monday. “These kids, their parents, pay the same taxes as the other team’s parents and they just need to treated equally.”
He also added that the parents have the added stress of driving their children 30 to 45 minutes from Hopewell to other locations in the area to play games.
Marshall Parker, athletic director for Hopewell City Public Schools, said Friday afternoon that there are no additional dates that can be added to Merner Field, saying that the four that have been provided will remain.
“We would like for the groups to work it out,” Parker said. “How would they like to utilize the field. We don’t have a preference to either group.”
Parker also added that the four dates do not equate to four games on the field but rather four days of continuous play on Merner. He said game time will often run from 8 a.m. to almost 8 p.m.
Parker said the field cannot take that much feet at one time day after day.
“It’s a full day of play on the field,” he said, adding that the four dates were agreed upon by members of the School Board a number of years ago. “For a grass field, they can’t wear it out that much. We’re in the process now of trying to restructure that field and it’s taking a lot. ... It’s not that I’m trying to deny anybody to play on that field. ... I don’t care which league wants to use it. I just gave them four dates.”
Monroe, and the Hopewell Dolphins, are not only fighting for more time on the field but to be a league that is recognized by the City of Hopewell.
Last season, Monroe said the team practiced at Arlington Park, a park without lights, running water, or bathrooms. After a meeting with Jo Turek, director of Hopewell Recreation and Parks, the team now practices at Carter G. Woodson Middle School.
“We don’t have enough fields of a bigger size and Merner Field is with the schools,” Turek said.
Not only has Hope 4 Youth been denied time to play on Merner Field, Monroe said his team is not provided with any money from the city.
City Manager Mark Haley said the Hopewell Youth Football League receives $2,300 from the city under the budget from Hopewell Recreation and Parks.
“The city has provided them funding to help them operate because football is a really expensive sport,” Turek said, adding that the city has provided funding for the league for years. “The city provided them funding every year which they had requested.”
Both Turek and Haley stated that the Hope 4 Youth did not request any funding for this upcoming season or the season prior.
The fight for the field does not show any signs of stopping at this time. Another protest was scheduled for Aug. 4 at Ashford Plaza and petitions are circulating in the community to show support for the Dolphins.
And it is clear that Monroe is going to continue to stand for the 100 boys and girls who want to cheer and play football.
“Rivers and valleys have been put in my way but I’m not going to stop,” Monroe told council in July. “I’m going to continue to climb over the mountains and continue to swim. This is my passion, this is my heart, this is my youth.”