By Joe McGrath
In light of all the discussion and now, published renderings of a fitness type playground on the drawing board for Stuy Town Playground #7, I felt it was time to make my contribution to the Soapbox “forum” regarding my thoughts, and more importantly memories of this iconic “hockey playground.”
While the makeup and demographics of the complex has changed over the years, and perhaps roller hockey is now not played every day in this playground, it would be a real shame if it went the way of other great memories and facilities in PCV/ST.
You see, growing up in Stuy Town, you were almost always identified or associated with what playground you hung out at or came from. Playground 7 was different, though. When it came to hockey, all roads led to Playground 7. Whether it would be rushing home from school every weekday from late September to mid-April to “lace ‘em up,” or participating in the Recreation Department sanctioned leagues, this was our life blood and formed lasting lifetime friendships!
The “Rec”-run leagues headed by guys like Chris Rainey, Willie Kettering, Dennis McDonald and Reynold Kurth were super competitive and packed with spectators on Saturdays in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and a bit into the 90’s. Even our locally based YMCA team called Playground 7 its home during our formative years, and who can forget the Stuy Town Dynamos and even a year or two when we were nicknamed the Bruins, coached by great guys like Frank Dunn, Harry Rumpf and Mike Ahearn.
Now, I know the great former resident, Brenden Crowe touched upon these unforgettable memories a few years back in your paper (“Growing up in Playground 5,” December 27, 2012), so I will do my best to not be repetitive. But some of the guys that planted the seeds, all a few years older than me, were truly legends. These were legends that nurtured us “young’uns” at the time and accepted and taught us as well. Never, ever forget the Mike Lydens, Frannie Sheehans, Jimmy Wheelers of the complex.
Never, ever forget these four Playground 5 guys, who because of Stuy Town roller hockey, became very close friends, and I was honored to have them in my wedding party, 35 years ago! Top line wingers Mike Cavanaugh and Danny O’Shea, fellow line mate, tough as nails, Ricky McDonnell and hard hitting defenseman Robby “The Captain” McDonald. You see how important these bonds became to us?
Part of the makeup of a PCV/ST kid playing hockey required that you had to politely “request” a roll or two of electrical tape from Con Ed techs working in the streets and making the short trip to Moe’s on Avenue A and 13th Street for a new stick, adhesive tape for sticks and to tape your hockey socks and of course, every imaginable nut, bolt, wrench and skate part that Moe would always dig up from some large pile in his store. Priceless!
Ah, the memories are endless! Who can forget the day smooth skating defenseman Kim Zauderer, smothered in Vicks VapoRub, while battling a cold, chased a freaked out Robby McDonald around the playground? Or smacking the goalie pads of John “Gio” Giordano and the pads’ stuffing rocketing through the air and when it landed, I swear, it resembled an old, hidden bologna sandwich!
Let’s not also forget the Stuy Town “uptown crew” that plied their trade up “north” at Playground 1 on 20th Street… head on over to “7,” fellas. You all know who you are and how you helped shape the fabric of a great childhood and are still in the community today and remain great friends.
Since I was an “ICS” guy, I hold a special place in my heart for my buddy Tommy Ross, who left this earth way too soon. Tommy could play center or defense with equal, superior skill. He was always the first guy I “called for” at his apartment across the loop from me on the way out to Playground 7. And of course, most of us that were born in the 50’s years passed down our genes or skills and tips to those born and bred in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Way too many to mention, but oh, so many talented players and human beings. And yes, brothers and sons too. Many who went on to high school and college ice hockey careers.
You see, it’s in our blood, runs through our veins. When we get together at weddings, communions, christenings, wakes (unfortunately) or simply at annual holiday gatherings… the stories run amok like defenseman Bobby Ressegue chasing around an opposing player from Woodside or Mike Farragher firing home many goals with his wicked wrist shot. Do we embellish a wee bit? Perhaps, but jeez it feels good to be rocketed back to the 60’s and 70’s, like a broken-in pair of Chicago skates.
So the “Soapbox” message I’m trying to get across here is save our Playground 7. It’s simply “hallowed hockey ground” with its black top surface, orange/brown brick low walls that served as boards, benches to fish pucks out from and just about the right length and width of a real life NHL Hockey rink. Get your kids or grandkids out there playing a true NYC sport. A sport that will keep them in just as good a shape as any proposed “fitness playground.” A sport that will lead to life long, fantastic friendships… and maybe even future wedding party members!
Joe McGrath is a lifelong resident of Stuyvesant Town (1956-1995) and Peter Cooper (1995-current) and previously worked in upper management for an MLB/Sports retail business. He has coached hockey and managed with the NYC Cyclones travel team. His own sports days are over except the occasional alumni event though he still watches games at 7.