Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Wicket Grows in Brooklyn: The Demographics-And Difficulty-Of Sports

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Wicket Grows in Brooklyn: The Demographics-And Difficulty-Of Sports

Article excerpt

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WHEN JULIUS SPIEGEL TOOK over as Parks Commissioner for Brooklyn, New York organized field sports had been on a long, trajectory that tended to reflect community demographics. Baseball. in particular, dominated the assignment of playing fields in the borough's finite number of parks. As Hispanic immigrants swelled Brooklyn's population in the 1980s. soccer became an additional staple of parks and recreation programming. As the Canadian-born Spiegel observes, new sports tend to come in under the radar.

"There's been a huge shift," Spiegel says. "Other than in certain Spanish neighborhoods, baseball I find is on the decline, Even in those places where there are still league activities, it's still concentrated in the spring Very few places even have Little League in the summer. Early on in my time there was a huge shift toward soccer and that has stabilized.

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"There has been a surge in tackle football and cricket," Spiegel continues. "There has been interest in lacrosse and some of the funny games, like kickball. But the big shift has been toward cricket and football."

It was in driving around his borough that Spiegel came to notice the sport most native-born Americans find impenetrable--cricket, a sport originating in England that spread throughout its colonies worldwide. At cricket's peak in the second half of the 19th century, Philadelphia boasted having more than 100 clubs before baseball began to supplant it. Cricket might well have remained a historical oddity in the United States were it not for changing immigration patterns in the late 20th century. As Indians, Pakistanis, Caribbean islanders, Africans, and others began concentrating in U.S. cities, they brought along their favorite sport.

"And that's a real problem for us, because in Brooklyn we don't have enough land," Spiegel says. "Even though baseball is on the decline, it's very hard to take away someone's baseball field, especially if they are affiliated with a local police precinct."

The city constantly keeps an eye out for land to acquire, and recently bought some waterfront property in the Williamsburg/Green Point area. A significant opportunity came Brooklyn's way five years ago when proffers on a mixed-use project required the donation of open space by the developer. …

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