LETTER: Herman Will Be a Champion for Our Young Athletes

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Three candidates are running for two Maplewood Township Committee seats in 2024: incumbents Nancy Adams and Jamaine Cripe, and Malia Herman. The primary election is on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. The general election takes place on Tuesday, November 5, 2024. Read all of our Election Coverage here.

My wife and I moved to Maplewood nearly a decade ago because we thought it was the perfect place to raise our two kids. And we were right. In SOMA we have found a diverse, enriching community where differences are celebrated but common values bind us together.

As my kids aged, I was thrilled to find that they enjoyed team sports: softball for my daughter and baseball, flag football, and basketball for my son. Team sports have immeasurable benefits for young people, imparting lessons on teamwork, integrity and grit while promoting health and confidence. I found myself getting more and more involved in the local sports leagues, my available time for doing so aided by working from home during the pandemic and its aftermath.

I now serve as the president of the SOM Baseball and Softball Boosters and as a member of the SOM Baseball Executive Committee, co-leading the travel baseball program. I also serve on the SOMA Flag Football Committee. I coach my son’s recreational and travel baseball teams, his flag football teams, and his basketball teams. I also help to coach my daughter’s recreational and travel softball teams. I don’t sleep all that much, but I love that I can be involved with my kids and their teams, and help make a difference for young athletes in our community.

Like many of you, I am continually embarrassed at the condition of our athletic fields in SOMA. Our fields are overused, pockmarked with ruts and gopher holes, and have infield dirt that causes injuries to those who slide on it. No amount of maintenance can change the fact that they are located in a floodplain. When it rains, our fields become pools of standing water, and games and practices are canceled all the time. 

Just recently, a modest rainstorm hit SOMA on a Friday. The next day, a Saturday, was bright and sunny, and our fields should have been full of kids playing sports. But all the games were canceled, because standing water on infields and in dugouts rendered them completely unusable. Whenever we travel to other towns for games, the players on my teams ask, “why can’t we have fields this good?”

As the father of a softball player, I find it particularly appalling that the varsity girls softball team at Columbia High School does not have its own dedicated field, and instead must share an overused facility at Meadowland Park with youth baseball teams, while the varsity boys baseball team has its own dedicated field at the Underhill Field Complex. The gender inequality is infuriating. 

The School Board recognized this problem and allocated money years ago for the installation of a modern, usable turf surface at Ritzer Field at Columbia High School. A turf field at Ritzer would allow athletes to play year-round, and would provide the girls softball team with its own facility. Sadly, that proposal was rejected by the Board of School Estimate. 

In my day job, when I’m not coaching youth sports, I am an environmental and land use lawyer. The reasons given for opposition to turf are nonsense. Turf fields do not cause climate change, do not cause localized flooding (in fact they reduce local flooding because they are permeable and designed to absorb and drain water efficiently), do not become unusable in summer heat, and do not contain toxic substances in concentrations that could even conceivably cause health effects. What a turf field at Ritzer would do is to provide female athletes in SOMA with a playing field that, at long last, shows respect for their dedication and skill.

No local official has proposed a realistic plan to make our grass fields more playable, because such a plan would be both outrageously expensive and nearly impossible to achieve. While both South Orange and Maplewood need to do more to make the best of a bad situation with our existing fields, taking turf off the table entirely will only perpetuate the crisis.

In the upcoming Maplewood Township Committee election, I will be voting for the one candidate who is committed to solving the athletic fields problem in SOMA, once and for all.  That candidate is Malia Herman. 

I have known Malia and her husband, Dave, since our daughters played on a youth softball team as 8 year olds. Malia is kind, caring, and deeply involved in the Maplewood community. She understands the value of youth athletics and will work hard to solve the athletic fields issue in SOMA. A vote for Malia is a vote for common sense, for a mother with children in public schools in our community, for a candidate who understands that she can be pro-environment but also take a balanced approach to improving our inferior playing fields. 

In the June 4 election, though the ballot allows me to vote for two candidates for Township Committee, I will be voting for only one, the one candidate who cares about our young athletes: Malia Herman.

Dave Amerikaner
Maplewood, NJ

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