Honduran Soccer League Can't Use New Crotona Park Field They Fought For
CROTONA PARK — A soccer league of Honduran immigrants is being shut out of a field they lobbied the Parks Department to build in Crotona Park.
The New York Honduras Soccer League, which has hundreds of members, pushed for the $626,000 synthetic-turf soccer field in the park that previously only had facilities for baseball, basketball, handball and tennis.
After the city agreed to install the field, which opened in 2011, it denied a permit for the Honduran league to play on it, giving preference to youth leagues instead.
Now the league meets wherever teams can find a patch of open space in the park, using gym bags, trashcans and portable posts for goals.
"In our country, they play in the dirt," said the league's project director, Willie Alvarez, 24.
"But they come to a better country," said Alvarez, "and they’d like to play on a better field."
Alvarez is the son of Xiomara Arriola, who is president of the New York Honduras Soccer League. Roughly 15 years ago, Arriola, who moved to The Bronx from Colón, Honduras, in the 1980s, realized that her teenage sons, who often hung around All Saints Lutheran Church on E. 163rd Street, needed something better to do.
So she founded a youth soccer team, Los Santos — "The Saints" — for the boys at the church.
Eventually, other teams cropped up to meet the rising demand of soccer-crazed Honduran immigrants, many of whom settled in The Bronx.
Nearly 18,400 Honduran immigrants live in The Bronx, which is more than twice the number in any other borough, according to the 2010 American Community Survey.
In 2009, Arriola decided to form the league to bring the various Honduran teams together, along with some clubs for players from Africa, the Caribbean and other Central American nations.
The league now boasts 25 teams, each with 20 or more players, which are named for the Honduran towns that their members hail from. Different teams cater to young men, adult men and women and children.
The same year Arriola founded the league, she began to lobby the Parks Department to build a soccer field in the 127-acre Crotona Park.
"For other sports, there’s fields everywhere — baseball, softball, basketball," Juan Arzu, 61, a former Los Santos coach who now leads a team for older Honduran players, said through a translator. "You really don’t come across many soccer fields in The Bronx."
Instead, the teams turn baseball outfields or the corner of open fields into makeshift soccer facilities.
"There’s a lot of rocks, trees," said league member Carlos Alvarez, 34, who is unrelated to Willie Alvarez or his family.
A nursing home employee who often heads straight from work to soccer practice and games, Carlos Alvarez said the new synthetic-turf field would improve his team’s game and attract new recruits.
"We would be a better team," he said. "More people would want to come join us."
Arriola, who is a member of Community Board 3, which includes Crotona Park, made several presentations to the board about the need for a soccer field, brought players from the league to board meetings and even led board members on a fact-gathering visit to Crotona, said board chairwoman Gloria Alston.
"She really fought hard," said Alston. "She worked a long time to get that field."
She also met with members of the Parks Department on several occasions, when she described the need for a field and the exact type of synthetic turf she was after.
In 2010, the city decided to construct a synthetic-turf field over a former playground area at the park. By April 2011, the field was complete.
This year, the Honduras League applied for a permit for its adult teams to use the field for practice during the week.
They had already secured several fields for weekend games at Ferry Point Park in Throgs Neck, roughly five miles away from Crotona Park.
The Parks Department offered daytime spots on the new Crotona field to the league, which the league rejected since almost all of its players work during the day.
The department assigned all of the field’s weeknight and weekend play time to three youth leagues, which get preference in the application process, according to a Parks spokesman.
The league plans to apply again for space on the new field next year.
On a recent Saturday, as some 1,200 players and their many supporters streamed from cars and public buses into Ferry Point Park, Arriola checked in players and passed out the bottled water and sandwiches she brought for them.
"My people waited for a field," she said. "Now they say, 'What happened to our field?'"