A helicopter hovered over Beach Channel High in Rockaway Park, N.Y. Inside the aircraft was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, along with the pilot, was surveying an entrance point to the Rockaway Peninsula. Few areas among the 24 states Hurricane Sandy affected were hit as hard as this one.
As the helicopter got within a few dozen feet of Beach Channel’s artificial turf football field, the pilot suddenly ascended again. The turf, already torn at the seams from years of wear, lifted from the foundation and began wildly whipping around in the air, nearly catching in the helicopter’s rotor.
“If you look at our football field, from the 40 to 40 is nonexistent,” Beach Channel coach Victor Nazario said. “It’s only the black rocks and stones underneath the field.”
An area lightly recruited to begin with, New York City’s few prospects face even more challenges and hurdles in landing the elusive Division I scholarship.
Beach Channel DT Folorunso Fatukasi has yet to go back to his house since the Oct. 29 superstorm forced his family to evacuate. But he’s trying to make the best of the situation.
For several months, Fatukasi was working out at a gym close to the motel where his family was staying. His family is now living with a friend, but his perseverance helped him sign with Connecticut earlier this month and he recently received his workout schedule from the UConn staff.
Now that Beach Channel is open again, Fatukasi is working out on the field as much as the conditions allow.
“We can do some workouts, small sprints,” Fatukasi said, “but when me and my teammates want to do full sprints, it’s not working out. … But it can be done. We got half of a field to work with. If we need to do 100-yard sprints, I guess we’ll go right there and turn right back around.”
While Fatukasi is signed and ready to leave for UConn in the summer, underclassmen are just beginning their pursuit of a scholarship. The spring evaluation period, during which college coaches can visit high schools and watch potential recruits train, begins April 15 and lasts through the end of May.
The problem is several high schools don’t have a field or facilities.
Nazario faced a similar situation 13 years ago as the city updated several of New York’s fields. Nazario, who spent six years in the Army Reserves, held workouts at an old military fort no longer in operation. He hopes to use that again if the field is not ready in time, but he was told the base could be used to help deal with Sandy relief in another capacity. Layers of sand from the nearby beach buried another Rockaway youth football field, leaving one fewer option.
“I’m brainstorming as we speak,” Nazario said.
Abraham Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) coach Shawn O’Connor talked with assistant coaches last week about what the school will do for the spring evaluation period.
Lincoln junior defensive tackle Thomas Holley has added several high-level BCS offers in recent weeks, but he has only eight career games under his belt. O’Connor has a few other underclassmen who also could use the help of a strong spring performance in front of coaches to earn a scholarship.
“We got not only Thomas but some other good guys that can get some [attention] because [colleges] are coming to look at Thomas,” O’Connor said. “Right now we’d go in tennis courts or the gym or go to a park a couple blocks away if they don’t get the field up and running.”
Sandy could hurt the development of New York City’s prospects when it comes to the 2013 season as well. Nazario and O’Connor both lost their football field houses to flooding. The recently furnished weight room at Lincoln was destroyed, as well as game tape and some equipment. Beach Channel’s field house had three TV sets and DVD players to watch film. All are now unusable.
“I had to sit with my AD to give a list of everything lost -- which was pretty much everything -- and what needs to be replaced,” Nazario said, “but the Department of Education has priorities and understandably so.”
With estimates pushing Sandy’s damage toll past $70 billion, O’Connor is asking where the money to help rebuild football facilities and buy equipment will come from.
“Who’s going to pay for it?” he said.
Nazario just hopes he can field a team in 2013. The numbers are dropping, and some parents are hesitant to send their children back to the city schools hit hardest.
He tries not to dwell on it too much, though. He said that isn’t in his nature.
“I’m not going to pout,” he said. “I’m going to seek to solve it.”