Taking the Field: Rugby Team Renovates Westside Park
By Katie Montgomery
Borts Field has been forgotten.
It sits in the 4th Ward, home to old square-shaped houses with small lawns and unassuming mailboxes dotting the driveways. Old storefronts — some boarded up and some still clinging to life with peeling paint and iron bars over their windows — line the adjoining streets.
Originally built in the 1930s for Youngstown baseball teams, the infield and playgrounds are weathered and overcome by weeds. What was once a vibrant public pool is now filled in, with the decorative arches and windows of the adjoining brick pool house layered in graffiti.
According to Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban Research and Studies, only eight people visited Borts Field in the entire year of 2013. Compare that to Wick Park, with 895 visitors.
But this year, Borts Field is getting a second chance.
The Youngstown Steel Valley Rugby Club began talks with the City Council almost six months ago about finding a field. Borts Field not only has a good location for the team, but it is also one of the most neglected parks in the area, making it a prime location for a project like this.
In City Councilman Mike Ray’s attempts to revitalize his Ward, one of the areas he’s focused on is the city parks.
“We knew that Steel Valley Rugby used local parks in the area for their games, and we thought it would be a good partnership to help them fix up and use the field,” Ray said. “We have plenty of park properties in the area and we want to make sure they’re going to be used.”
Bill Burton, secretary for the Club, is handling the partnership between the club and the city. He’s a native of the 4th Ward and wants to restore the park to its former status.
“We want to try and make it a place where not only can we play rugby games and expose the whole area to rugby, but we want the park to be used as it should be. We want to make it something that the neighborhood can use again,” Burton said.
The club is relying on its own members and skills to start the process.
“It’s a very diverse group. We have college kids, we have professionals,” Burton said. “Everyone is pitching in to try and help in whatever way they can with whatever skill set they have.”
The club is trying to complete the project by next spring, so the entire facility will be ready for the coming summer.
“Before the snow flies, we’ll have everything leveled out and removed, and parts of the field reseeded where it needs to be [reseeded],” Burton said. “At least by spring we’ll be able to use it.”
One of the teammates volunteering his skills is George West, a senior engineering student at YSU. Using AutoCAD, West is drafting the field’s layout for the rugby team.
“As of right now it’s just me [designing the field], and I don’t have my professional engineering license, so I can’t officially design anything,” West said. “But I want to try and get the plans so we can draw it up and not be wandering around out there in the dark like we’re trying to build it in a cave.”
West will use blueprints of the original layout from the 1930s to draft the new fields, so he will know which areas will be easier to redo and which ones should be avoided. The layout for the future field will be more complex because there will be multiple rugby fields installed by the Club.
“We’re going to have one permanent field with permanent [rugby] posts set up, and we’ll have one field with removable posts, so that way if a soccer team wants to use it they just have to schedule around us,” Burton said. “We’re planning on having youth rugby also and flag football leagues, but any way that the public wants to use the facilities, we’re all about it. We want the whole community to be a part of that park just like it used to be.”
With the city granting permission to the team, and with Burton and West providing the vision forward, the only difficulty facing the club now is obtaining funding.
“At least we’ll know where the field can go, and what can fit, that way we can show the city something and say, ‘This is what we’re looking at and this is what we’ll do,’ and they’ll say, ‘Hey this is fantastic! Here’s all the money!’ That’s what we’re hoping for at least,” West said.
Burton is optimistic about the future partnership.
“We’ve been working with Councilman Ray to try and find a way that we can try and remodel and rehabilitate that old pool house to use as locker room facilities and a media room for the rugby team and as a building for the community,” he said. “We’re going to look at the cost of the building and things like that, and the club will definitely help with grant money and money that the city wants to kick in so that hopefully we can save that structure.”
But for the entire Steel Valley Rugby Club, it’s about more than just getting money for a field.
“We’re a small crew right now, trying to bring rugby to the area. That’s our big goal. We’re starting a high school-age team, which will play other high school teams, and that’ll give us a farm team to build from,” West said. “We want to get more people involved. It’s a great sport, it’s a lot of fun and the camaraderie with rugby is really great.”
They’re hoping rugby is just what Borts Field needs to once again become the center of the community.
“There’s not a lot of bad that can happen,” West said. “We’re taking an area that’s not used at all . . . We’re getting all this stuff coming into that area, and people hanging out there and cookouts and stuff, and our plan is to have this set up and be a community field again.”