D.O.E. now says adult league can use schoolyard

ZogSports kickball players using the playground outside Lower East Side Prep High School, at 145 Stanton St., last Sunday.    PHOTO BY JAMES OO
ZogSports kickball players using the playground outside Lower East Side Prep High School, at 145 Stanton St., last Sunday. PHOTO BY JAMES OO

BY YANNIC RACK  |  In a disappointing turn for a group of local residents, an adult sports league has not suspended its weekend kickball games at two schools on the Lower East Side.

The Villager reported in August that, according to a Department of Education spokesperson, ZogSports, a co-ed social sports league that operates across the city’s boroughs, had its permit revoked for kickball games at P.S. 142, at 100 Attorney St., and Lower East Side Preparatory and Marta Valle high schools, at 145 Stanton St., by D.O.E. because it was a for-profit business and therefore not fulfilling the permit requirements.

Now, after residents have been complaining about continuing kickball games on the schoolyards, the department has made a full reverse on the issue.

In an e-mail two weeks ago, Marge Feinberg, the same spokesperson who initially told The Villager that the permits had been rescinded, said that ZogSports “provided documentation showing they are a nonprofit organization” and that “their permit has not been revoked.”

She previously stood by her original statement but conceded to investigate after the office manager for ZogSports confirmed that games were continuing on the Lower East Side, starting the fall season this past weekend.

“We met with the Department of Education on August 15 [after the Villager article was published] and they confirmed that the ZogSports Athletic Association has permits and that the person that you spoke with was incorrect when they said that. Our permit was never revoked,” the ZogSports office manager said.

The residents have complained that Zogsports promotes alcohol on schoolyards by partnering with sponsors such as Bud Light and Wild Turkey American Honey. The residents also say that children are turned away at the gates of their own schoolyards to make room for the adult kickball games.

“I guess they can technically cover themselves as a not-for-profit because of their sister entity,” said Diem Boyd, founder of L.E.S. Dwellers, an activist local neighborhood group. “But our argument still says that it’s promoting happy hour at local bars and alcohol brands, and we don’t see how that’s appropriate on D.O.E. property.”

Boyd added that the problems don’t end on the field because the players move on to the countless nearby bars on the Lower East Side after the games.

According to the Town & Village blog, ZogSports was expelled from Stuyvesant Town-area playgrounds in 2012 after a woman and her kids were turned away at the gate because of an ongoing kickball game, which triggered a flurry of complaints from residents.

ZogSports is a for-profit entity that gives a portion of its net profit to a sister nonprofit called Play For Your Cause. In addition, the ZogSports Athletic Association of New York City is a nonprofit that runs “100 percent of the [ZogSports] activities in NYC Department of Education facilities” and in turn donates 100 percent of net proceeds to charity, according to the ZogSports Web site. 

According to the ZogSports office manager, the permits are made out to the nonprofit ZSAANYC, therefore qualifying the games for D.O.E. facilities. Part of the donations that are made through the association also go directly to the schools that host the games. Play For Your Cause “receives money from ZogSports, ZSAANYC, partner bars and sponsors” and donates funds to charities as well, according to the Web site.

The group including Boyd and L.E.S. Dwellers has written numerous letters to the department and also filed a complaint against Play for Your Cause with the New York State Charities Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office.

“They seem to be concentrating in certain areas where there’s a lot of alcohol around, and the poor neighborhoods,” Boyd said of ZogSports. “It’s not happening at Upper East Side schools, it’s not happening at Upper West Side schools. I think they’re doing it down here for obvious reasons.

One local resident who did not want to be named, but claims she has witnessed this behavior from her apartment opposite P.S. 142, said, “This is shameful. I mean, come on, you’re kicking kids out so that these adult kickball leagues can play on school property?” 

Marge Feinberg, the D.O.E. spokesperson, responded to the allegations last week, saying, “There was no evidence of promoting alcohol. Also, schoolchildren are not inconvenienced because the permit only allows the organization to use the field when it would otherwise be closed.”

Other than ZogSports’ office manager, company representatives could not be reached for a comment.

This is not the first time the residents are fighting an adult sports league. Last month, NYC Social Sports League, another organizer of co-ed leagues, stopped playing there after L.E.S. Dwellers and residents repeatedly contacted the department with similar complaints. 

Boyd said they never heard back, but the league removed its equipment from the fields and hasn’t been playing since. NYC Social did not return phone calls asking for confirmation. But Feinberg said, “NYC Social decided not to complete its time left on its permit.” 

Martha Polin, who has been the principal at Lower East Side Preparatory High School for 13 years and is the building principal for M.O. 25 (which houses three schools), said she can’t understand the complaints.

“These are lovely people, they’re young professionals, it’s good for the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s really not loud. There’s no promotion, there’s no signs, nothing. There’s no alcohol on the premises. After they are finished playing kickball, they may go out to a bar — I don’t know what they do, and if they do, so be it. It’s not my business.

“Down here, on a Thursday night or a Friday night, people are vomiting in the streets; it’s so crowded you can’t walk on the sidewalk,” Polin added. “But this is where these people choose to live. And they’re complaining about a little kickball, a little fun. Plus, these organized sports, they donate all their money to charity. So I don’t know what their problem is, but I think if we had a flower-arranging class back there, they’d complain about that, too!”

Polin added that ZogSports doesn’t pay the schools to play on their grounds and hasn’t donated any money to M.O. 25 either. The league does, however, pay D.O.E. a fee for its permit. The principal also confirmed that the schoolyard would normally not be open to children anyway. 

“If they weren’t using the yard, it would be locked,” she said. “It’s not a park.”

A spokesperson for P.S. 142 referred questions about the sports league to D.O.E.