The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

August 21, 2013

A living Memorial

Geneva’s historic community hub returns to life

By MARGIE NETZEL - mnetzel@starbeacon.com
For the Star Beacon

GENEVA — Helmets crash together as coaches yell across the much-loved grass at Memorial Field.

“Get him!” “Keep your head up!” “Lead with your shoulder!”

The players of the Geneva Midget Football League’s Lower White team scramble for ball and tackle, staying focused on the scrimmage instead of the people walking around the rutted track around the playing field. On the former tennis courts, small girls learn cheers and chants and on the other side of the track the smaller children play flag football.

For Lower White head coach Don Arrkelin, the atmosphere is almost electric.

After much heated debate and several contentious school board meetings, the fate of the arson-charred Memorial Field — which has been closed for more than a year as the Geneva Board of education worked to find it a new purpose — is not quite sealed, but it is hopeful.

While the board of education continues talks with city officials for the long-term plans for the field, an agreement with the Geneva Midget Football League has people coming back to Geneva’s old stomping grounds, Lisa Pucci-Delgado said.

Delgado lead the charge to save the field after the gates were locked more than a year ago. She started an online petition to compel the board of education to let the community use the field for recreational purposes, but then evolved the plan to include the renovation and restoration of the burned-out grandstand and rickety guest bleachers.

The grandstand and bleachers were demolished in June. The board kept the old Eagles scoreboard as “a landmark,” BOE president David Foote said.

With the scrap-metal reclamation contract went the rusty chain-link fence that surrounded the field — and the gate and lock, leaving the field open to the public for walking or running the track.

GMFL will paint and maintain the fieldhouse and concession stand, while the school district will continue to maintain the grass and grounds, Delgado said.

Of concern is the cinder track that circles the football field — too small for high school competition — needs cinders and grading. The small wooden stands left on the south side of the field need new planks and paint, and possibly some metal reinforcement, Delgado said.

Lower White assistant coach Jeff Carcell, who graduated from Geneva High School in 2005, said returning the field is bittersweet.

“I played on this field in high school, played in the mud and under the lights, and the fire was so devastating to those of us who really know what it’s like to play here,” he said. “Part of me understands that the high school can’t use this field anymore, and it is good to see my own son play on the field I played on.”

Arrkelin agrees.

“Playing at Memorial Field is an experience for these kids,” he said. “It is definitely a lot nicer than playing at Carraher Field. I would have loved to see Memorial Field as the high school field, and the fire was really bad for the field and the community. But it looks like a bad thing turned into a good thing, after all, because seeing the kids play here is really great.”

Foote said the board’s intention was always to return the field to public use.

“Unfortunately for our community, access to Memorial Field has not been afforded for too long,” he said. “Sadly, as we all know, the home stands at Memorial Field fell victim to vandalism, creating several safety issues for community use.

“Hearing the public outcry the board has been fervently working to see public use of Memorial Field realized once again.”

Netzel is a freelance writer from Geneva.