The unexpected return of Dietz Stadium to Kingston High School’s spring sports helped alleviate some of the immediate concerns over the state of the district’s playing fields, but school officials are still facing criticism from some members of the public.
Joe Beichert, a parent of three Kingston City School District (KCSD) students, addressed the issue for a second straight meeting of the Board of Education on Wednesday, May 17, criticizing school officials not only for failed attempts at correcting the issue, but also for not holding those responsible accountable. Beichert was last before the school board on Wednesday, April 18, discussing the state of the fields, particularly those at M. Clifford Miller Middle School and Chambers Elementary School, where spring sports like lacrosse were expected to be played, and where track and field teams practiced while their Dietz home was inaccessible due to extensive upgrades.
Beichert said the condition of the district’s athletic fields “is indicative of the failed leadership in our athletic department” under Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics Rich Silverstein. Beichert added that the Board of Education and school officials failed to act when concerns were raised in the past.
“Two years ago, 400 alumni, coaches, parents, teachers, and athletes signed a petition expressing concern over the state of our athletic program and the current leadership,” said Beichert. “This board chose not to act. Two years ago, 15 teachers and coaches signed their name to a letter directly to this Board of Education highlighting how they felt undermined and undervalued, how there’s a disconnect between the leadership and our coaches and teachers, that discussions or decisions were being made without communicating with coaches.”
Beichert alleged that an unnamed coach leaving her position was told by Silverstein that “he’ll make sure she never works in this district again,” and that many others were afraid to step forward with concerns in fear of “repercussions and retribution.”
“We stand here in solidarity tonight to express a no-confidence vote in the leadership in our athletic department,” said Beichert.
Silverstein could not be reached for comment, and while District Superintendent Paul Padalino agreed that the district could have done a better job of preparing its fields, he declined to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the athletic director.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Padalino said in an interview with Hudson Valley One on Friday, May 26. “Should we have engaged in more proper field management company prior to this season? Absolutely we should have. But Mr. Silverstein is an athletic director, he’s not a botanist.”
Last November, Silverstein said Kingston would have to find a home for around 125 athletic events during the Dietz closure, most within the district itself.
M. Clifford Miller Middle School and the adjacent E.R. Crosby Elementary School already regularly featured sports facilities used by Kingston High, including Gruner Field, home of the Tigers’ baseball team, which while Dietz is out of commission will also host field hockey in the fall. At Miller and Crosby, Old Burke Field is temporarily the home of modified softball; Fields 1 and 2 will feature boys lacrosse and soccer, in the fall with the former also the site of cross country; Field 3 will also feature soccer, girls lacrosse, and girls flag football; Field 4 will welcome both soccer and girls lacrosse; Field 5 is the home of varsity girls lacrosse and modified football.
Meanwhile, at Chambers, there will be soccer and field hockey in the fall, and track and field in the spring, including a dedicated training spot, as well as an isolated shot put and discus area. Softball, both varsity and JV, will also happen at Chambers.
But the district was unable to find the space within its own boundaries for everything: Home games for the 2023 Kingston Tigers’ varsity football team will be played this fall at Rondout Valley High School, with all those games being played on Saturday afternoons as Rondout traditionally plays its home games on Friday nights.
Last month, Padalino said another part of the problem is the continuous use of the fields.
“Those fields get pounded,” he said. “We have 66 sports offered in the Kingston City School District, and there’s 29 of them going on right now. And these are all field sports.”
Padalino added that the relatively mild winter meant some fields are drier than usual this spring, and thanks to local snowmobile and ATV enthusiasts, they’re also more torn up.
“Snowmobilers don’t care if there’s no snow, they still come riding across our lawns,” Padalino said in April, “People just tear up our property. And this year there wasn’t much snow, but the snowmobiles are still going to ride, which may be ten times worse.”
Last November, school officials discussed its plans to aerate and seed its fields during the winter to prepare for the spring athletic season. Padalino said those efforts had not been successful, and that the district had recently hired a sports facilities planning company, who tested the soil and grass on various athletic fields and are putting together a maintenance plan designed to keep them in good condition.
“In the next couple of weeks we’ll have a real plan, and I’ll be able to present it to the board and let them know where we are and put it out to our community so they know where we are and where we’re going to get the results that we’re hoping to see, Padalino said.
With Dietz Stadium expected to be out of commission for fall 2023 and spring 2024, school officials are working toward making sure that their other athletic fields are in good shape for all outdoor sports played on them. The KCSD is different from many other districts in that their athletic fields aren’t located on their high school campus.
“Most high schools in the world, you walk out the back door of the high school onto the athletic field,” Padalino said last week. “Kingston High School, you walk out the back door onto Broadway…That’s not an excuse, that’s just a fact.”