The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 25, 2013

Memorial Field has more goals

But its days as the center of Geneva football over

By MARGIE NETZEL - mnetzel@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

GENEVA —  For 28 years, Geneva resident Beth Carney’s foot tapped to the beat of the Geneva High School Marching Band during Friday night football games.

Carney didn’t so much attend the games as they came to her — Carney’s back yard borders Memorial Field, the school district’s former track and field and football stomping grounds.

But the band doesn’t play at Memorial Field anymore, as Geneva’s student athletes now train, practice and play at the state-of-the-art Spire Institute in Harpersfield Township.

The grandstand, donated by the Class of 1975, was destroyed by an arson fire last year. Last month, the Board of Education announced the termination of the field’s land lease with Spire. Last week the board said it will demolish the grandstands, visitor’s bleachers and press box at Memorial Field and remediate the property. The board hopes to collaborate with city of Geneva officials in the maintenance and future use of the land.

The fire, set by two juveniles, was the final blow to Memorial Field.

“The board has decided and has been forthcoming that Memorial Field, unfortunately, does not meet the long-range plans of our district,” board president David Foote said. “Finances and practicality of Memorial Field use is not prudent. These decisions have not been taken lightly and have been made considering what is in the best interest of our students.”

But even as Foote’s strong voice announced the fate of Memorial Field, rumors continued to swirl around the community — does the board have the authority to end the athletic days of Geneva’s field of dreams?

Don Branford said his graduating class — the Class of 1975 — donated the now-destroyed grandstand, and he understood the field was donated by former judge and mayor of Geneva Joseph Mallone, and that no transactions were to occur regarding the property.

“Our field was meant for the public and it was meant to stay that way,” Branford said. “Judge Mallone donated the field with that understanding.”

School treasurer Kevin Lillie said district documents show no such transaction or covenant related to Memorial Field.

“We have gone back through the documents as far as we can, and I can say that each piece of land was purchased from the parcels surrounding Memorial Field. Memorial Field did not come from any one land owner,” he said.

Other rumors declare the Veterans of Foreign Wars as the original owner — and donor — of the property, with the same false limitations on the continuation of ownership.

“It just isn’t true,” Lillie said, “but it certainly makes the story interesting.”

Foote said the field will be remediated into a non-sports facility. Insurance money paid by two insurance claims — $162,000 for the district’s policy and $135,000 for Spire’s policy — is banked in the district’s permanent improvement fund, Lillie said, for use in the remediation.

But the sports heritage of Memorial Field will remain in the shadow of the Geneva Eagles’ original score board. The board, which dates back to the 1940s, was a nightmare for maintenance workers to fix and will stay at Memorial Field even after the grandstand and visitor’s bleachers are gone, said Ed Leitch, the district’s director of transportation and maintenance.

“They don’t even make parts for it anymore,” he said. “It doesn’t work. The last time we fixed it, I had to drive into Cleveland to get a used part because there are no more new parts for it. But it’s a part of the history of the field, and people see it as a landmark, so it will stay up.”