High school football games curtailed in White Stadium plans
Issues with cleats, schedule cited
In October 1949, when the George Robert White Schoolboy Stadium opened in Franklin Park, the 10,500-seat facility, built for Boston Public Schools students, hosted rival football teams — Boston Technical High School versus Boston College High, Dorchester High versus Boston Trade, Boston English High versus Roxbury Memorial.
Over the decades, the stadium has been a mainstay of high school football and a place where many of the same schools continue their historic rivalries. Now, 74 years later, the high school football games may have to wait until the end of the season.
In July, city officials announced a plan to lease the stadium to a professional women’s soccer team, allowing for 20 games a year in a March 16 through Nov. 17 schedule — a time frame that includes the bulk of high school football teams’ regular season schedule. During that time, football will not be allowed on the field.
The team’s owner, Boston Unity Soccer Partners, was the sole respondent to an April request for proposals to redevelop White Stadium with the city, and in July was designated as the “preferred proponent” for the project.
The team’s ban on high school football games — necessitated because the cleats used by football players would alter the texture of the turf, according to an article that appeared last week in the Boston Globe — has underscored a growing current of community concern about the leasing of a public facility to a private entity.
“Students should be able to play on their home field,” said Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council. “They can’t just all-of-a-sudden lose access. If we’re giving away the rights to use a public facility, that’s a problem. You can’t put the needs of the students behind that of a private team.”
Currently, White Stadium serves as the home field for Boston Latin Academy. Team members walk to the stadium from the school’s Townsend Street building and hold practices there daily during the football season. Nine other BPS schools currently play games in the stadium.
Dion Irish, the city’s chief of operations, said that aside from regular-season football, other programs and activities taking place at White Stadium will continue to be held there. Soccer games can be played there in the fall, and track and field events can take place in the spring.
“The vision for White Stadium is that it’s going to be more available for more sports,” he said.
But Irish acknowledged that the professional soccer team’s schedule will take precedence over any other events planned in and around the stadium.
“The team will have to play according to the schedule put out by the league,” he said, referring to the National Women’s Soccer League.
In addition to BPS sports programs, activities in White Stadium include concerts, a city summer camp, high school graduations and special events such as the Caribbean Carnival of Boston’s Kiddies Carnival. Additionally, activities in the Playstead area adjacent to the stadium include the Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Festival, baseball and cricket games. Under the city’s plan, soccer games that take place roughly three times a month will take precedence over those activities if they conflict with games.
Under the plan being put forward by the administration of Mayor Michelle Wu, the city and Boston Unity Soccer Partners will invest $50 million in the renovation of the stadium, which the soccer team will lease. The city has not yet determined how much of the funding will come from the soccer team. The planned renovations include reconstructing the facilities inside the grandstands, expanding the track from six to eight lanes and redeveloping the southern portion of the facility.
Irish said the city also has not yet determined whether the basketball and tennis courts to the south of the stadium will remain.
“We need to rebuild the east grandstand and we need to widen the field,” he said. “We want to expand the amenities at the stadium.”
Among the areas of potential conflict flagged by neighborhood groups around the stadium are traffic and parking.
Louis Elisa, president of the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association, said that for several years he and other neighborhood activists have been asking the city for a traffic study of the area. While Irish said the city is putting together a team to conduct a study, Elisa countered that a traffic study should have come before the city decided on a plan for the stadium.
“They get it in their head what they want to do,” he said of the city, “and then they try to bully you into agreeing with them.”
District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson notes that the soccer stadium is just one of several plans that could disrupt life in or around Franklin Park. She points to the city’s numerous plans — to implement a center-running bus lane on Blue Hill Avenue with reduced on-street parking; to close Circuit Drive in Franklin Park to drivers; to lease White Stadium; and to build hundreds of housing units for formerly homeless people on the site of the Shattuck Hospital — as a perfect storm of conflicting plans.
“The plans are coming all at once,” she said. “People are concerned that there are so many plans in and around Franklin Park, they can’t attend all the meetings.”
Anderson said most of the city’s meetings around the stadium redesign have taken place on Zoom with the chat function switched off, little time for public testimony and no question-and-answer period.
“They haven’t allowed for honest engagement with the community,” she said.
Irish said he’s heard the concerns about parking around the park from community residents. He stressed the city will implement permitted parking in surrounding areas.
“There will be resident parking, and we’ll enforce it,” he said.
Boston Unity Soccer Partners also has pledged to use a satellite parking system with shuttles running from remote sites to the park.
Elisa remains unconvinced that the promised improvements to the stadium will outweigh the inconveniences brought on by thrice-monthly soccer games and the loss of use for high school football teams.
“I’m not in favor of the plan unless they can retain all the benefits to our community,” he said. “We can’t lose any of the programs and activities that are happening there now. There’s no benefit for us.”