Can Baseball and the Memorial Day Parade Co-exist?
The debate over a proposed baseball tournament being held the same day as the Memorial Day parade brought impassioned pleas from local veterans, and suggestions for a compromise from the Baseball Association and Council at the March 28 council work session that went into overtime.
At issue is the Bergen County Charity Classic, an annual baseball tournament that raises funds for families in need. The tournament is played every Memorial Day Weekend, with several satellite hosts holding games all day Saturday and half a day on Sunday. The Midland Park Baseball Association was asked to be a host this year, and sees it as an opportunity to raise funds for field repairs.
The problem: The Midland Park Memorial Day is traditionally held on the Saturday before Memorial Day. It begins at 9:30am with a 15-minute observance at the flag pole at Vietnam Veterans Field at the high school. If Midland Park were to host games, they would be played on Veteran's Field.
Further complicating the matter, the borough has a rule in place banning baseball games prior to 1pm on the Saturday before Memorial Day out of respect for veterans. To hold a tournament that day, according to VFW Commander Bruce Strengberg, minimizes their service and is a dishonor to the memory of the heroes who lost their lives at war.
Veterans from the American Legion and VFW spoke before the council, giving emotional pleas to uphold the morning ban on baseball games. They recalled service friends and classmates who died, including the eight men from Midland Park who died in Vietnam: Michael J. Parmerter, Alan Zimmerman, Norman Goble, Wayne Golen, Brian Wedlake, Steven Foster, Cordell Rogers and Robert Viggiano.
"Through noontime has always been set aside for the veterans in town," said Mayor Patrick "Bud" O'Hagan."Changing it for you would be setting aside the needs of the other veterans including myself. We would like the children to participate in the parade, and then the veterans would be happy for the children to play baseball in the afternoon. The request [to suspend the rule] is something I am not favor of."
According to Midland Park Baseball Association president Dana Weisbrot, hosting the tournament would be a one-time event and include traveling teams ages 11U and 14U. The veterans' ceremony could also serve as a learning experience for the players.
"The kids today don't learn enough about our military history. Vietnam was 45 years ago. What better way to educate our youth if we compromise and have all these people at the ceremony," Weisbrot told Midland Park Press. "You can educate people more if you do it while they are doing something they like. This is a natural fit. And it's dedicated baseball families, not kindergartners running around."
The opportunity to use the tournament to raise funds for field repairs through concession sales and Johnny Vander Meer commemorative merchandise is also a draw.
"We didn't get the funding voted in for the school improvements and the fields need work. The Baseball Association has always helped with field costs, so the schools can put its money on education," he said.
"But its not just about money, we have volunteers to help run the tournament," Weisbrot noted. "We also have volunteers and companies who are dedicating their time and equipment to help repair the fields. We need these fields upgraded and maintained and our help is needed. While we have a good group of parent volunteers, we'd like to do this."
While Mayor O'Hagan remained firm in his disapproval, members of the council had different reactions, mixing support for the veterans with recommendations for a compromise.
Councilman Scott Pruiksma views adding baseball to the ceremony as a learning opportunity. "My wish is that more of our youth could understand the stories of our history, to educate our youth about this great community we live in," he said. "I would love to find a way where we could work it together."
Council President Nancy Peet said she "went to school with every one of those eight boys who died. They played football with my brothers or sat at my table," adding, "These young boys are remembered for their athletic ability as well as their service."
Councilman Jack Considine, a US Navy Veteran who's daughter served as an Air Force nurse in Afghanistan, said Memorial Day is a special day for him to remember those who didn't come home. "Would it be practical to see if you can get together and try to address each others concern and come up with a solution?" he asked.
The council agreed and made a motion to refer the matter back to the two groups to come to a compromise. Suggestions included holding the ceremony at the flag pole at borough hall or changing the time of the ceremony.
Councilman Nick Papapietro suggested the two groups sit down together following meeting, and offered a room down the hall to do so. Strengberg declined, stating that he would bring the matter before the full VFW and report back to the council.
What do you think? Can baseball and the Memorial Day Parade co-exist in Midland Park? Is it disrespectful to the memory of fallen heroes to hold a baseball tournament on the day of the parade? Tell Us In The Comments!