Tag Archive | "Van Cortlandt Park"

Bronx Kids: Lace Up Your Skates

The new skating rink under construction in Van Cortlandt Park. (MARGARET BADORE / TheBronx Ink)

For the past three decades, any Bronx child who wanted to learn to figure skate or play hockey had to travel to either Yonkers, Rye, or one of Manhattan’s outdoor park rinks.

“When I started skating the closest rink was Rye Playland,” said Lauren Hunt, 27, who grew up in Throgs Neck and is now the skating school director at World Ice Arena in Flushing, Queens. Few of her friends in Throgs Neck knew how to skate. “I was fortunate enough to have a mother who was willing to drive to Westchester and beyond.”

A new city ice skating rink in Van Cortlandt Park is expected to  to change this. Scheduled to open on November 15th, the new outdoor rink promises public skating sessions, performances and a skating school where children and adults can take classes.

Van Cortlandt Park was once home to a seasonal rink near the tennis courts, but it has been closed since 1983. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to bring an ice rink back to Van Cortlandt Park during his State of the City address at the beginning of 2011. A partnership between RD Management and Ekstein Development, which runs rinks elsewhere in New York City, won the bid to build it from the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy.

According to project manager Ron Kraut, the conservancy hopes to attract 50,000 to 60,000 visitors between November 15 and March 1. During the same four-month period last winter, World Ice Arena had over 82,000 visitors and City Ice Pavilion in Long Island City saw just under 33,000 skaters.

The rink’s management tapped Alana Kelton to run the skating school in part because her in-laws owned the prior Van Cortlandt Park rink, once known as Kelton’s Tennis and Ice Skating.  “I was familiar with the Riverdale area,” she said. Kelton has been teaching ice skating for over 40 years and is also the director of skating at the Hommocks Park ice rink in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

The skating school plans to follow the Ice Skating Institute’s learn-to-skate program, which is geared towards teaching new students the fundamentals. These classes teach basic skills needed to play hockey, figure skate or just ice skate for fun. Kelton said she likes the Institute’s program because the levels progress sensibly and allow skaters to move up quickly.

The new rink will be primarily aimed at recreational skating. “We’re going to focus on what the community wants,” said Kristi Tortorella, the general manager. “It’s mainly there as a service for the community, rather than being a competitive facility for skaters.”

Terence Mulvey, a Riverdale resident, said he thinks a nearby rink will be good for the area. He is considering enrolling his 7-year-old son in skating lessons. “Just yesterday, he expressed an interest in playing hockey,” said Mulvey.

For Kraut, the ice rink is a social gathering place where young people, families and children can find a common interest. “Our objective is to teach the Bronx how to skate.”

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The ecstasy and the agony of Ethiopian marathoners

Kingsbridge resident, Lemma, poses outside Central Park as his friend, Alem Ashebir looks on. (Mohammed Ademo/THE BRONX INK)

Fikadu Lemma braved the early November frost in Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday morning, pumping his legs, stretching his triceps, in a final half-hour push before his run in the world-class New York Marathon on Sunday.

“I am not nervous,” said the soft-spoken Ethiopian runner who has lived nearby in a Kingsbridge apartment for more than three years. Indeed, Lemma along with his two Ethiopian roommates, quietly trained for months, out of the media spotlight.

More attention has been paid to Ethiopia’s defending running champion, Gebre Gebremariam, and two Kenyans, Emmanuel and Geoffrey Mutai, who share a common name.

The Kenyans, who have increasingly dominated long distance races, vowed to not only win, but also to beat the record time. On Sunday, they did just that when Geoffrey crossed the finish line at 2:05:05, a New York Marathon record. Emmanuel followed 01:23 later, setting his own course record. The defending champ, Gebremariam, came in fourth.

Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado, 27, won the women’s title in 02:23:15 finishing four seconds ahead of Buzunesh Deba, the local favorite from the Bronx. Mary Keitany of Kenya, who was leading for much of the race, came in third. Other Ethiopian athletes didn’t fare quite as well.

Lemma, 28, who came in 18th in New York Marathon last year, finished a disappointing 19th this year. He had hoped that additional training and praying would help push him closer to number one this year.  “At the tenth mile mark, I felt pain in my leg. I pushed myself, but it was not good,” said Lemma.

Half a dozen Ethiopians, wearing scarves decorated with their country’s flag, gathered outside Central Park on West 69th Street to greet and to hug the runners. Lemma’s mood was not celebratory. “It’s okay,” one man shouted as Lemma walked away from the cameras.

Two things set Lemma apart from his fellow Ethiopian long-distance runners. He is tall, and he hails from West Shawa, which is in the Oromia region of the country. The majority of Ethiopian athletes come from the south-central highlands of Arsi.

A pioneer athlete from his local village in Ambo zone, Lemma had worked as a runner for 16 years, a career tainted by injuries that has taken him to Japan and around the world. He ran for a Japanese club before coming to the U.S., and prefers the shorter, and fast-paced cross-country run. But he has taken part in almost all types of races including the demanding Steeplechase.

Lemma has been running on and off in spite of a left leg injury. He usually runs 10K and half-marathon. As his injury steadily improved this year, Lemma started trying his luck with longer races. Since his return to the field four months ago, he’s won a number of smaller races including the Coney Island 5K race, the18th annual Pit Run 10K Race in Oneonta, New York, and the 11th annual Mayor’s Trophy 5K Run in New Jersey. Today, he clocked 02:20:41, five minutes and 29 seconds short of his personal best of 2:15:12 in the Marathon.

Many in Lemma’s rural village have barely heard of the Bronx. But the Bronx is home to 14 Ethiopian athletes, in total. Lemma shares a room in a West 195th Street apartment with two friends, Ketema Nigusse and Alem Ashebir, who also trained for Sunday’s race.

'Yes the Bronx' honors Ethiopian-born Kingsbridge resident with a billboard displayed at Willis Avenue Bridge post.(Mohammed Ademo/THE BRONX INK)

At Willis Avenue bridge post, activists from Yes the Bronx, a non-profit organization that seeks to challenge negative stereotypes about the borough, and Assemblyman, Marcos Crespo of District 85, shouted, “welcome to the Bronx,” standing under a billboard, “Energize Buzunesh Deba, Bronx’s Own”, as runners flew by.

New York offers many opportunities and challenges for the Bronx-based Ethiopian athletes. The city is a perfect gateway to races in the States as well as around the world. In Ethiopia, travel abroad can be daunting and disruptive to training schedules. From the Bronx, domestic travel is one short train ride to an airport in Manhattan with a possibility of a return flight home.

But the challenges are many. Lemma and most of his friends do not have a coach. He trains himself, often alone, when his friends are away competing in races around the country. He also has no health insurance, which could leave him financially strapped when he has a major injury. Lemma’s lower ankle injury, a likely culprit in today’s dismal performance, has gone untreated by a specialist as a result.

The professional athlete visa that grants them entry into the U.S does not allow them to hold regular jobs. So they have to make a living solely by running.

“This is our job and if you try hard, you can make a decent living out of it,” said Lemma, with a winning grin on a recent Thursday. He acknowledges that it can be tough when there are not enough races to go around. “Bills don’t give us a break when the sport does,” he said speaking in his native Oromo language.

In addition, his training grounds at Van Cortlandt Park and Central Park are not located at the high altitudes that are preferred by long distance runners.

To work around it, Lemma goes for longer distances at an increased pace. Some of his friends temporarily move to higher altitude locations in New Mexico, California, and Arizona. A handful visit and spend months in Ethiopia when training for highly selective races.

Sitting on the bench overlooking an empty Van Cortlandt football field three days before the Marathon, Nigusse and Lemma discussed the challenges of their chosen profession and a friendship that has survived their intense competition on the track.

Nigusse, for example, spent two months in Ethiopia training near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, this summer. That training paid off for the 30-year old father. Since returning from Ethiopia, he won Philadelphia’s 10-mile race, Brooklyn’s rock ‘n’ roll 10K, the Japan Day 4 Miler, and second place in the Pittsburg Marathon and the Straton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon.

Nigusse, who along with his wife is a permanent resident of the United States, first came to participate in Nashville’s Marathon in 2008. He has gone back and forth to Ethiopia numerous times since both to visit his son, Fraol, and to train. His son lives in Addis Ababa with his grandparents. Nigusse is already thinking ahead. That’s why he opened a sports clothing store in Addis Ababa.

“A rat with two holes can’t be trapped,” said Nigusse repeating a recognizable Oromo proverb. He insists he is not ready to quit. “I am just getting started and I’ve big hopes in the future.” Nigusse who decided against running in this year’s marathon, only hours prior to the race, gave no reasons.

Despite today’s performance, Lemma’s passion for the sport lives on. At the conclusion of the race, Lemma, who was limping, managed a wry smile and said, “I’ll go back to Ethiopia and train better for next year.”

“Sometimes that’s all you can do, try your best.”

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Bronx volunteers join citywide effort to plant 20K trees in one day, NY1

As part of an initiative to plant a million trees in the five boroughs by 2017, about 500 volunteers from the Bronx planted trees at the Van Cortland Park on Saturday morning, NY1 reported.

Organizers hope to plant 20,000 trees during the one-day event.

“We have our crews out in all of our parks to help maintain the trees, but we also invite New Yorkers to volunteer with us,” said Morgan Monaco of the Million Trees program.


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VIDEO – Gaelic Games Reaching Beyond the Irish Community

The gymnasium in the Church of the Visitation annex building at the southwestern corner of Van Cortlandt Park reverberated to the sounds of balls bouncing on its tiled floor, sneakers screeching against the gleaming surface and the wheezing of 13 energetic young women desperately trying to catch their breath. Pennants draped from the rafters commemorated the parish basketball team’s championships, but the hoops were firmly tucked away into storage on this night at the end of March. There were no free throws or slam dunks at this training session.

Having been rained out of their regular training field in Van Cortlandt Park, the players from the Fermanagh Ladies’ Gaelic football team were diligently going through their practice drills in preparation for the New York Ladies’ Gaelic Athletics Association season. The sport, largely unknown outside of Ireland, has seen fluctuating participation rates in New York, stretching back for more than 80 years, depending on the cycles of Irish immigration. Numbers are low in the current economic climate — only five women’s teams will compete for this year’s silverware — but The Bronx’s Irish community is taking steps to ensure that the game continues to thrive over 3,000 miles from its origins.

Gaelic football is thought to be one of the world’s oldest sports. According to a study by Jaime Oregan from Elon University in North Carolina, historical references to a form of the game being played in Ireland date to the 14th century. The modern game is best explained as a hybrid of soccer and rugby. Teams of 15 players play on a rectangular field with a round ball. The aim is to kick or strike the ball with the hand past a goalkeeper into a soccer-type goal for three points, or between posts rising above the goal for one point. Players cannot carry the ball in their hands for more than four steps without either bouncing it or dropping it to the foot and kicking it back into their grasp. The team scoring the most points at the end of two 30-minute halves wins the game.

Mary Murphy, a prominent member of the New York Ladies GAA board of officers, arrived to observe the girls as they practiced their kicking and hand-passing. She is familiar with the challenges of keeping the sport alive among New York’s Irish community, having been active in founding the women’s organization in 1991. “We didn’t have cell phones then, and we didn’t have computers,” she said. “So we stood at a corner candy store in Riverdale with fliers.” Before long there were enough participants to form a cluster of teams, largely named after the counties of Ireland, who have fought for the annual league championship every year since 1992.

Ms. Murphy, the daughter of Irish parents, was born in the Bronx in 1962 and grew up living near Fordham Road. “It used to be a big Irish neighborhood, from there all the way up to Woodlawn,” she said. “But then, one by one, the neighborhoods changed.” Today, Woodlawn remains as one of the last bastions of true Irishness in the city, and it serves as the base for most of Fermanagh’s team.

With the young native Irish population dwindling, the New York GAA launched the Gaelic 4 Girls organization in 2003 to promote the sport among the next generation, whether they be of Irish-American heritage or otherwise. There are now six youth teams from Under-8s to Under-18s who have competed against similar programs from Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Chicago and San Francisco. Gaelic 4 Girls is host to summer training camps as well as arranging annual trips to Ireland where the New York girls can test their skills in competition against Irish teams. Results have been encouraging so far with a number of teams reaching the semifinals and finals of tournaments.

The investment in the next generation is also beginning to pay off in the ladies’ league. Of the 13 Fermanagh players training that night, Ms. Murphy said eight were American-born.

By the middle of the summer, the make-up of the Fermanagh team will be slanted toward native Irish girls as college students cross the Atlantic for work experience or to visit friends and family members. But thanks to the efforts of Ms. Murphy and her fellow board members, ladies’ Gaelic football in New York looks to be in a healthy state with or without another influx of Irish immigrants.

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Tribeca Coyote Will Be Taken to an Undisclosed Location

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

On Thursday, the Bronx Ink reported that city officials were considering releasing a wild coyote captured in Tribeca in Van Cortlandt Park. Today, we learned that the coyote’s final destination will be kept secret.

Officers with the New York City Emergency Services Unit caught the coyote on Thursday after shooting it with a tranquilizer dart in a parking lot on Watts Street and the West Side Highway. As of Friday morning, the coyote was being held at the New York City Animal Shelter on East 110th Street. According to the Health Department, the coyote was observed overnight and “was found to come out of tranquilization safely and appears healthy.”

The Health Department said the Parks Department is now working with New York Animal Care and Control “to release the animal in a city park that possesses a more suitable natural habitat for the coyote.” Though Van Cortlandt Park was considered as a possible home for the coyote, the Health Department said, “to avoid stressing the coyote, and disturbing its relocation process, we will not be releasing the name of the site where it will be relocated.”

This coyote might not be moving to the park, but the Bronx already has several of the animals in residence. Wild coyotes have been known to frequent both Van Cortlandt Park and nearby Woodlawn Cemetery.

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Tribeca Coyote May Find New Home in the Bronx

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

A wild coyote captured by the New York Police Department might be on its way to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. On Thursday morning, police officers working with the Emergency Services Unit caught the coyote in a parking lot at the corner of Watts Street and the West Side Highway. The animal was tranquilized, placed in a pet carrier, and transported to the New York City Animal Shelter on East 110th Street where it is still in custody.

Reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, a parks department spokesperson said they were in the process of determining if, where and when the coyote would be released. The 30-pound female coyote was first spotted downtown on Wednesday.

One of the potential destinations being considered for the coyote is Van Cortlandt Park, one of the only places in New York City with an established coyote population. Several wild coyotes already make their home in the park and the city has previously released other captured coyotes there. In 1998, a statue was erected by one of the park’s entrances in honor of, “the first confirmed coyote sighting in New York City since 1946.” That coyote, a female nicknamed Major, died on the nearby Major Deegan Expressway in February, 1995.

Coyotes are rarely found elsewhere in the five boroughs, but recently, the animals have been making an increasing number of appearances inside the city limits. In February, three coyotes were spotted on the Columbia University campus in Manhattan.

According to a 2006 report from Professor Emeritus Robert E. Chambers of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, coyotes have “been present in New York state at least since 1920” as they “extended their range eastward after wolves became extinct in the eastern U.S. and southern portions of Canada.” At the time Chambers said there were “between 20,000 and 30,000” coyotes living in New York.

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