Weekend sports is a staple of autumn in New York. I used to play AYSO soccer in Central and Riverside Parks, and on Saturdays and Sundays my dad and I would trek out to one field or another, in the rain and through the leaves, to kick a ball around with the West Side Soccer League. I was on the Tornadoes - we rocked. It was important to me, and to all the other girls I knew who played soccer. And then it was important to my brother. And now it's important to hundreds of other kids all over Manhattan - I still own my father's manager's sweatshirt and wear it frequently.
I had never really considered that adults in New York also take advantage of the city's multiple parks and playing fields to create their own teams - but they do! Of course a city as competitive and well organized as New York would be filled with people who would like nothing more but to fill up all their free time with more activities. This is not derogatory; I think it's great. I'm among them, ready to spend every waking moment busy - I'm just not athletic at all, so sports are kind of out. But that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of them as a spectator.
I got the opportunity this past weekend. One of my friends, Emma, is a rugby player. She's been sending emails to all her friends from her artistic life to come out and support her, but, true New Yorkers all, we've been busy. I found myself, however, with a Saturday to kill and decided to attend her game out on Wards Island.
Wards Island is small area of land off the coast of Manhattan on the Upper East Side, above Roosevelt Island, filled with playing fields and insane asylums. It is connected via landfill (thank you, NFT) to Randall's Island, which has more playing fields and more asylums. It's not very big, maybe three miles around, but big enough to fit the bases of three bridges and plenty of green.
I have a special place in my heart for Wards. Back in the days when I played softball (7th and 8th grade), we used to have some practices and games out under the big beautiful bridges. The grass was sparse and infected with glass, and the water usually smelled like pollution, but it was kind of wonderful playing out in the middle of the East River. And of course, Field Day was there every year, and therefore when I think of Wards, I think of Brearley and the red and the white teams, and school spirit and really ugly red baseball uniforms.
I grabbed my friend Justin (another hard working New Yorker recently transplanted from SF), and we meandered over there. The only ways onto the island are via bus, car, or walking across a foot bridge at 102nd Street. We took the bridge, and it is the first time I have ever walked across one of those skinny tall passages which dot the East River. It was rainy and humid and cool and warm - ideal rugby weather if I know anything about rugby (and I don't).
It was wonderful. It was an absolutely lovely way to spend a Saturday. Emma came off the field for a bit, and taught me all about the sport (which, by the way, makes no sense and is as violent as you think it is, but is thrilling to watch). Then, there was a barbeque and lots of beer, and Justin and Emma and I sat on the ground and ate burgers and watched the men's team play (which is more brutal).
They are clearly redoing Wards and Randalls. The fields where rugby teams were playing had been converted into turf, which was disappointing until I realized that by now the fields would probably have turned to mud and turf was actually preferable to the needle scattered alternative. Of course, the turf sheds, which is weird and synthetic and gross, but it seems to really be the best alternative so who am I to argue. When Justin and I walked around the island, we saw all these beautiful wrought iron lamps put up along a new pathway. It looks like it's going to be a nice place when it's finished - well landscaped and well used.
Of course, they're not done yet, so our walk was marred by vast stretches of construction and I was saddened to realize that the fields where we used to play were all under construction, fenced off and covered in concrete. It was disheartening, to say the least - both Randall's and Wards are pretty barren at the moment, and not a little sketchy in parts. I had Cat Steven's song "Where Do the Children Play?" stuck in my head for most of the walk, and despite the very nice job they've done fixing up the fields where my friend played, I was nostalgic for the old New York, the New York of broken glass and sparse glass and bridges with graffiti where private school kids played next door to unemployment offices. It was New York - a melting pot, rich and poor and everything in between and there was no effort to pretend that the city was anything but a dirty and utilitarian city, and we played where we found space and a patch of green.
Of course, I'm being a brat. The island will be beautiful. It was just another example of the changing landscape of my hometown.
And the game was great, and the footbridge was awesome. I highly recommend weekend games, if you can get away from your own free time activities.