HOWELL TOWNSHIP, NJ – Howell Township Business Manager Brian Geoghegan on Tuesday made the decision to shut down all public parks in Howell as COVID-19 rates in nearby Lakewood continue to grow. There was no official statement by Geoghegan, but the closure effectively shuts down youth sports and all outdoor recreation in the township until further notice. Mayor Theresa Berger said she agreed with the closure of parks, but said organized youth sports should not have been included Geoghegan’s closure.
“There has been a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in neighboring towns. Due to the uptick in cases and the lack of social distancing in the parks, the Township Manager and OEM made a decision to close the parks,” she said. “I completely agree with temporarily closing our parks but there needs to be an exception for organized sports that are abiding by the Department of Health’s health and safety protocols. In the next few days, I will be meeting with township officials to fix this situation so we can get our kids back out on the fields for their 2020 seasons.”
As of now, football, soccer, softball, baseball and other sports leagues and teams will have to either shut down until a resolution is determined or will have to find alternative venues outside the township to continue.
Residents expressed outrage of Geoghegan’s decision to shut down youth sports because of actions of residents in a neighboring community.
Howell Township Councilman John Bonevich said he was also caught off guard after Geoghegan closed the parks.
“While I agree closing our parks there needs to be an exception for organized sports that are abiding by the Department of Health’s health and safety protocols. Over the next few days the township will be discussing how to better handle this situation and get our kids out on the fields for fall ball, soccer and football,” Bonevich said.
“Howell South Little League has safely provided township kids the opportunity to play circumspect, neighborhood baseball for over 52 years. We have enacted extremely strict protocol, which over exceeds the particulars laid out by the NJ Department of Health for medium risk youth sports, following the suspension of Executive Order #149,” said Rory Durin. “Additionally, we have played an entire Summer season, and are 3 weeks into the Fall season without incident. Please do not allow the irresponsible and self-centered actions of adults dictate the fate of our local children.”
“Please open Oak Glen Park, and all our other fields to Howell sports programs that have lease agreements with the township. Howell Soccer Club has been a Howell sports institution for over 45 years. We have always provided a safe and enjoyable place for the children of Howell to enjoy soccer,” said Steve Schwiering. “We gone above & beyond in following exact Covid protocol set forth by New Jersey Youth Soccer. Our club had had three weeks of successful Covid free soccer, and our families need a sports outlet after the long Covid shutdown. DO NOT punish our responsible sports programs because individuals from outside Howell cannot follow social distancing and other Covid protocols.”
Tina Smilek, who operates a large Facebook book group, Howell Happenings applauded the mayor to her call to overturn Geoghegan’s decision.
“Thank you Mayor Berger. Not the first time this manager had made a bad decision and now council is caught having to correct it,” Smilek said.
Andrew Lowry of Howell Girls Softball League has been a leader in regional sporting events for girls playing softball. Children are socially distanced, temperatures are checked and spectators are monitored for distancing, masks are required by all non-competing athletes at HGSL events.
“HGSL invested thousands in signage at Soldier, way above what town provided, we temp check every player and coach that plays there, enforce social distancing of spectators, pay extra to keep porta potties clean and enforce mask wearing while moving through the complex,” Lowry said. “There is no more that we can do and to lose the ability to play over something that we have no control over and does not reflect all that we have done to keep every person safe is unjust. This doesn’t address the problem and wrongly hurts those that have been doing everything right.”
“Many children play sports at the township parks. I personally don’t recall not one child or adult being notified with contact tracing at any sporting events that they have been near someone with covid or became infected with covid???? What is this really about??? Again the children suffer and can’t even enjoy playing their sport OUTSIDE,” said Lisa Sullivan.
Residents on Howell Happenings NJ Facebook page are now calling for Geoghegan’s resignation and residents want him replaced with a business manager who lives in town. Geoghegan lives in Toms River.