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Hundreds turn out to save Jamaica football field

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Coach Robert King and his Jamaica Wildcats youth football team have practiced on the vacant sand lot on the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and Linden Boulevard for the last 14 years for the low price of $7 per player: a small payment only one player made last year. Community members said they recently witnessed the owner of the lot rip down part of the fence to survey the terrain, presumably to make room for new housing.While King has the city's permission to practice on the land, if the owner decides to develop it, his legacy as the sole provider of affordable youth football will come to a crashing halt."If they take this away, where are these kids going to go?" asked supporter and City Council candidate Stephen Jones, before pointing across the street to where several young adults had gathered. "Right there on the corner. My goal is to have an intergenerational multicultural center. If they're going to build something, let them build that and let King run it since he's been there 14 years. Or give him another location, or some money to help him run the Wildcats."Jones said he feels obligated to help King because he also spent time under the wing of the 69-year-old coach when he was a child. King nicknamed the hopeful councilman "French Fry" because, according to Jones, he was "slick and good on the field.""He saved me. I've got to pass on what was so freely given to me," Jones said.At former rallies to support the cause, attendance was sparce. King's appeals to his past proteges proved unsuccessful, but word of his plight spread across the community after a TimesLedger story on the endangered lot last week and Jamaica hip-hop and athletic namesakes are beginning to show themselves. "As you can see, this isn't exactly a state-of-the-art facility, but you got to think about what you're taking away," said Hip Hop Summit Youth Council Executive Director Randy Fisher. "There's not an alternative facility set up for the kids. We're forgetting about what's more important. More attention needs to be brought to this issue."Several hundred swarmed the grounds on Saturday to barbecue, visit local vendors, including a voting registration booth, and of course, watch the Wildcats play some football.On a break from one of King's incessant practice drills, Jonathan Graham, 13, noted that without the space to play, his time would otherwise be consumed with idleness. "Before I came to this lot, everyday after I finished my schoolwork I used to be bored as I don't know what. Since I came here, I have something to do now and I have a dream to become a famous football player."No matter where the future of the Wildcat lot resides, King said he is going to fight for the field."If they come in here, we're going to have a rally," King said. "We're not going to be violent, but we're going to let them know that we're holding our own."Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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