They’re crying foul!
Locals fear city greenspace gurus are trying to kick out their kids soccer club in Fort Greene’s South Oxford Park. Coaches with the Fort Greene Falcons, which teaches the beautiful game to kids aged 2-8 at the artificial lawn near Atlantic Avenue, said the Parks Department has twice sent its officers to interrupt classes and intimidate them.
“Our community is upset, angry, dismayed that the Parks Department — during COVID — that they’re actually trying to dictate what happens on South Oxford Park,” said Nicole Mayhorn-Broadbelt. “[The agency’s] whole reason to be in business is to give people green space, not take it away.”
Mayhorn-Broadbelt and her husband Sean Broadbelt have run the soccer club for pint-sized players in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill for three years without complaints at the roughly 7,000-square-foot astroturf patch, according to Sean.
A few weeks ago, a resident who recently moved into a building near the park — and who claimed to work for Parks — waltzed up and demanded to see Sean’s permits.
“Sean said, ‘I’m just teaching my kids.’ [The neighbor] was like, ‘I’m gonna teach you the law,'” said Nicole. “I call him Mr. Soccer Scrooge.”
On two following Saturday classes on April 3 and 10, Parks directed their Enforcement Patrol officers on the club, with squad cars rolling up and asking Sean for his permits, something he said has never happened before.
“For three years that we’ve been operating, we’ve never had any complaints, any violations, nothing, zero,” he said.
Parks website states the public only needs to apply for permits if they’re a member of an organized league, while informal uses such as pickup games don’t require the paperwork.
Fort Greene Falcons is not a formal league, because the kids are so young and don’t compete in tournaments. Instead, their programs focus on teaching fundamentals of passing, dribbling, and kicking, while building team work, good sportsmanship, and individual skills, according to Sean.
“We don’t focus on the competitive nature of the game, we focus more on how to play together as a unit,” he said.
He added that when he tried to get a permit online, South Oxford Park wasn’t even an option on the drop-down menu to apply for a permit, likely because it’s not big enough to host a full-size game.
At first, Parks police officers seemed confused, saying they had gotten a complaint that older kids were playing in full-scale matches.
“[They] were arguing among each other saying, ‘Why are we here,'” recalled Nicole.
Officers then told them they didn’t need a permit, but a week later, more Parks police showed up with orders coming from within the agency to produce the documents, according to Nicole.
“One of the police said ‘I personally got a call in the Parks Department,'” she said.
The 20-year Fort Greener noted that it was a bad look for the agency to immediately sic its cops on her and her husband, who are Black.
“The fact that the Parks Department felt so comfortable to over-police us is completely incomprehensible,” she said. “Kids are already afraid of police and now you’re trying to get to them even younger? It’s just not acceptable.”
A Parks official apparently told them they could instead move their classes to Stroud Playground, about a mile away in Prospect Heights, but one area mom said there’s no reason to make them shlep their tots further out of the neighborhood just to kick a ball around.
“[It] is a hike if you’re the parent of a toddler,” said Ann Mead, whose 3-year-old Miles plays with the Falcons. “It almost feels like rules are being made on the fly by the Parks Department.”
After Brooklyn Paper contacted the Parks Department press office for comment, a spokeswoman said the club will be allowed to stay and that they are working with them to get a permit.
“These soccer groups are still welcome to kick it! We are working with these soccer clubs and have contacted each group to help get them a permit for continued access,” said Anessa Hodgson in a statement.
The rep noted that the resident who lodged a complaint does not work for Parks but that Parks Enforcement sent players packing nevertheless because the small field is not permitted for that type of use.
Nicole disputed Parks’s narrative, saying the Enforcement Patrol allowed them to continue to play at the time.
Hodgson did not respond to a follow-up request to clarify what kind of permits were required for the small-time soccer classes.
Nicole said she won’t let the city push their family-run business around, just because one local grouch kicked up a stink in the agency.
“Now the Parks Department is trying to fight against the community within Fort Greene and Clinton Hill and the community is saying no,” she said. “It’s very simple for us: We are members of the community our children go to school in the community — we’re a soccer family.”
A man claiming to be the resident who complained to Parks about the situation reached out to Brooklyn Paper, saying he alerted the agency because the soccer club was causing a racket on Saturday mornings.
The local, who declined to give his name, said that Sean blew his whistle very loudly and that the kids’ parents were cheering, with the sound bouncing off of the residences surrounding the lawn.
“For them to call me Mr Soccer Scrooge, I’d like to walk over in front of his home and fire a cannon, because that’s what I feel like on Saturday morning at 9 am when he blows his whistle,” he said.
The resident said that he didn’t work for Parks, but used to be employed with nonprofit park conservancies around the city.
He conceded that after he talked to Nicole about the noise, she and her husband were less loud.
“She said we will try to blow the whistle less often and take into consideration the residents,” he said. “She was very amenable she was very nice, and they did [make less noise].”
Editor’s note (Tuesday April 20, 3:15 pm): This story has been updated to add a response from the nearby resident first mentioned in this story.