By Editorial Board
If the sound of children playing sends ice water down your spine, and you have decided to live near a public park, isn’t that more of a “you” problem than the world’s problem?
Apparently not in McKees Rocks.
A recent kerfuffle was raised when neighbors complained about children in the Little Vikings football league using Rangers Field to play football. They complained cheerleaders were cheering too loud. Parents were clogging up their streets with cars so they could watch their children engage in outdoor activities. There were so many people around, using the sports field for its intended purpose that it was frightening.
Now, this would not be news if the McKees Rocks Borough had not sent out an email complaining to the President of the Little Vikings, Cameron Culliver, accusing the youth sports league of violating its contract. The complaints of all those neighbors were cited, too. The group of children were accused of being far too present in the neighborhood – too noisy, too numerous, too messy and potentially dangerous.
Culliver, in his frustration, had to prove once again his team had every right to be there, by mentioning the police presence at practices, his constant vigilance in keeping the field clean and his contract, which showed they were certainly allowed to be there, at the sports field, playing sports.
It beggars belief that people who purchased houses or rented near a playing field would meet its usage with such shock and horror. Why on earth did they decide to live near a ball field if the realities of children playing ball were so disruptive to them?
Rangers Field is a public park and living nearby does not imply ownership. It’s not for neighbors to regulate who uses the park, especially when said use has been sanctioned by the council and the McKees Rocks Police. In fact, it’s a very imperial way of looking at a communal space–deciding mere proximity gives you the right to dictate to people who’ve signed contracts and paid fees how they should be allowed to use the land.
When asked to discuss her feelings about the situation, Gina Beavers, president of the NAACP chartering committee of McKees Rocks was direct.
“It’s for the community, it’s not privately owned. You can’t just retract that because you don’t like who’s playing there,” Beavers said adding, “I see how the Black community lives in McKees Rocks, and I see how they’re represented or not, and I think the worst.”
Unfortunately, the Editorial Board has to agree. There seems to be a common theme in who is allowed to play in McKees Rocks.
In 2020, the Josh Gibson Foundation proposed building a community complex at Rangers Field which would have offered wheelchair-compliant baseball fields. A Miracle Field would have been a boon to kids who normally aren’t able to play, and a unique feature in this area. McKees Rocks, a region so often connected in the news with violence and crime, would have a space for kids with all levels of ability to feel safe, protected and included.
“The Josh Gibson Foundation believes in the endless possibilities for potential in today's youth,” a comment lifted directly from the organization’s website.
Seemingly, the McKees Rocks borough council of that time did not share in that belief. Whatever potential could have been fostered in the kids who would’ve been served by the Gibson Foundation was lost.
The McKees Rocks Borough Council declared the site a sanctioned green space. Prior to that, they unceremoniously dropped philanthropist Sean Gibson from their agenda days before he was supposed to present sweeping plans. Residents rallied behind Gibson, but those residents were ultimately ignored.
Sean Gibson is the grandson of Josh Gibson, for which his foundation is named. Josh Gibson was one of the greatest power hitters to ever play baseball. In the 1930s Gibson broke home run records and earned the nickname, “The Black Babe Ruth.” Unfortunately, his career was circumscribed by his race. If he’d been allowed to play in the majors, there’s no telling what kind of mark he could’ve made on the sport. It’s deeply unjust.
Some things do not seem to change.
The McKees Rocks council says they’ve changed since then. New president. New members. There’s even talk of working with the Josh Gibson Foundation again to renovate the disused Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club.
This recent disagreement over the use of Rangers Field seems like the same old game, though and the voices of certain residents seem to be heard above others.