Town on Soggy, Unplayable Sports Fields: ‘We’re Doing Our Best’


With a lingering, frosty winter that quickly turned into a very wet spring, New Canaan’s playing fields are unusually soggy and about three weeks behind where they usually are, causing some frustration among youth sports parents and coaches, officials say.

Parks Department crews are working diligently to get soccer, baseball and other fields into shape, despite a late clay delivery and hold-ups getting sand that New Canaan had ordered back in February/March, according to First Selectman Rob Mallozzi.

“The weather has been tough on my yard, tough on your yard, tough on our fields,” Mallozzi said. “We’re doing our best. We have people getting frustrated with conditions on our fields and our department guys are frustrated, too. It hasn’t been easy and I’m not making excuses. The guys are not sitting around not doing anything. We all want our kids on our fields and we’re doing the very best we can.”

This region in April saw 5.46 inches of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service—26 percent more than usual. Two days into May, a record single-day rainfall was set in Bridgeport—the nearest municipality to New Canaan for which the weather service collects cumulative precipitation data—shattering the 61-year-old mark with 1.49 inches in a single day. That’s 59 percent more than the prior high, set in 1953.

All of that precipitation aboveground dovetails with a very late thaw of the frost below, which had caused consternation for parks officials long before the start of scheduled practices for New Canaan’s lacrosse, softball, baseball and soccer teams (many of the youth lax teams play on artificial fields). With so much rain, it’s been touch-and-go since about April 9, when fields finally opened at Waveny, Mead, Irwin, Saxe, the high school and Connor.

Officials with youth baseball, softball and soccer leagues were not immediately available for comment.

New Canaan is about two-thirds through the spring, and the town has been hit on several Fridays by rainy weather, and even when fields have become playable under a baking sun on Saturday, the rain often has started up again on the weekend, Recreation Director Steve Benko said.

It’s not a matter of having more parks personnel on site, Benko said.

“You can throw an army of guys on the fields, but if it doesn’t dry, if it’s just all mud, my concern is not so much about damaging the fields as I don’t want a kid twisting a knee or pulling a groin or hamstring,” Benko said.

He recalled an incident 15 years ago where a suggestion to cancel a baseball game during steady, misty rain was argued down. Two batters later, a pitcher lost his grip on a pitch, hit a batter in the head and fractured an eye socket, Benko recalled.

“That is the kind of stuff that can happen and people don’t realize that,” he said.

Whenever possible, Benko said, he advises youth sports teams about alternative sites (sometimes in the same park or area) where games safely can be played—though coaches and organizers don’t always take advantage.

None of the grass playing fields in New Canaan have been spared by the rainy spring, Benko said.

“It’s all of our fields. The poor kids want to play baseball at Saxe and haven’t been able to play because there’s so much groundwater,” Benko said. “A good example is if you go beyond shortstop at Gamble Field and the water table is so high it’s peeking out of the ground.”

Now that it finally is warming up, the trees and grass themselves will start to drink up the groundwater and the fields will be able to absorb rainfall more quickly, Benko said.

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