Crestwood Soccer Club, mayor at odds over field space
BY CASEY TONER email@example.com August 13, 2013 4:52PM
Updated: September 15, 2013 6:29AM
Holding signs and chanting “Save our club,” about 60 supporters of a Crestwood youth soccer organization picketed late Tuesday afternoon outside the village hall to show their displeasure with Mayor Lou Presta’s plan to make the club share its field space with the public and allow the village to audit its finances.
Presta, who was elected in April, said, “We just want the people to know they can play in any park they want.”
But the Crestwood Soccer Club, which has used the site for decades, is headed by one of Presta’s political foes, John Toscas, who ran against Presta in the April election, which has prompted some to question Presta’s motivation.
“I think it is absolutely wrong, 100 percent,” said Kathy Somerfield, whose four boys all have participated in the Crestwood Soccer Club. “My question is, why do they want to do this now?”
The fields in question, located just south of 138th Street near Lavergne Avenue, are on ComEd land with electrical lines overhead.
According to soccer club board members, former Mayor Chester Stranczek agreed 32 years ago to let the club use the property rent-free after the village signed an agreement with the utility company for use of its easement. Soccer club volunteers have maintained the land and raised money for field upgrades such as fencing, a gate, a storage garage and soccer goals.
Presta previously announced plans to make the park available to the public. It now is used solely for the soccer organization, which has 40 recreational teams and five travel teams.
Presta also has said he wants to make all organizations that use the field subject to annual audits available for inspection. His plans call for creating a seven-member parks commission whose members would be appointed by the mayor, and creating a director of parks and recreation position.
The Crestwood Village Board is expected to vote on the changes at its next meeting, which begins at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Crestwood Civic Center.
Presta said his intention isn’t to chase anyone off the field.
“As long as there’s no practice or game going on, people have the right to play there,” he said.
Presta rejected claims that the decision was politically motivated, saying it was in the works prior to April’s mayoral election, in which he was pitted against Toscas, who is a village trustee and the Crestwood Soccer Club president.
“How could it be a vendetta?” Presta said. “If it’s a vendetta, maybe the other side has a vendetta for losing the election.”
Toscas was not at the protest and is expected to abstain from voting on the park changes due to the conflict of interest. His son, Mychal Toscas, however, was at the protest waving an American flag.
“What they’re doing is completely unconstitutional,” said Mychal Toscas, who is also a member of the soccer club’s board. “We want to stop the ordinance from being passed which will kick our children off the field.”
Disallowed by police from parking in the village parking lot, the protestors parked at the soccer field and walked to village hall with their signs. They limited their protesting to the sidewalk alongside the southbound lanes of busy Cicero Avenue, and cars and trucks honked at the crowd, drawing cheers.
Children and adults hoisted the signs that featured messages such as “S.O.S. Save Our Sports,” “If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” and “Keep Gov’t out of Sports.”
Firefighters from the nearby station watched the beginning of the protest from the fire department roof.
Connor Mottl, 9, who plays forward, midfield and goalie for the club’s Croatia team, was at the protest and had his own concerns about the village’s plans.
“All the other people will mess up the field and it’s not fun to play on anymore,” Mottl said.