Black Kids in Grove Need Roller Hockey!

Johnny Winton and some white boys say so

From the sound of it, a roller hockey revolution is about to roll over Coconut Grove's bayside Peacock Park, a block east of CocoWalk. The City of Miami Parks Department is forging ahead with a plan to replace a makeshift rink on two netless tennis courts with a 240-foot-by-130-foot roller hockey rink, surrounded by a ten-foot-high wall that would bifurcate a stand of oak and tamarind trees, and fence in about five gumbo-limbos. Leading the charge: Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton and his chief of staff Frank Balzebre. They are backed up by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, City Manager Joe Arriola, police Chief John Timoney, and assistant chief John Gallagher. The Department of Capital Improvements is ready to fund the rink with $143,700 in Safe Neighborhood Park Bond money, with an equal amount coming from park impact fees the city has been collecting since the early Nineties. Even the National Hockey League has vowed to help with money from its diversity fund, according to Balzebre. The program targets kids in the mostly black West Grove. "We're trying to get these kids off the streets!" Balzebre declares.

But in revolution, as in hockey, there is always fighting. Six months ago, a group of Coconut Grove residents formed Friends of Peacock Park to come up with ways to preserve and improve this bayside slice of the central Grove. It currently features a baseball field adjacent to glimmering Biscayne Bay; a small building housing a Neighborhood Enhancement Team office and the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce; and some rundown tennis, basketball, and shuffleboard courts. When Friends of PP first detected the rink plan about a month ago, it stung them like a puck in the face. They believe Winton and the other boosters are acting more like a dictatorship of the roller hockeyiate than civic leaders.

"What I want is the city to develop parks in a democratic way, with public participation," sighs Glenn Terry, a long-time Grove resident who teaches art at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in north Miami-Dade, and is co-chairman of Friends of PP. He thinks the idea that large numbers of kids from the black Grove can't waitto play hockey at Peacock Park is a myth perpetrated by white adult hockey fans. Winton and Balzebre, for instance.

Terry's radical hypothesis has some basis in fact. "We knew nothing about it," says Elston Lane, director of the West Grove unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Miami. Lane, a twenty-year veteran of the club, thinks he could round up some players but not for any Peacock Park skirmishes. "I think it's something they'd probably be interested in doing, because our kids love to skate," he offers. But few black West Grove parents will let their children make the mile-long skate down Main Highway or Grand Avenue, given the crazed drivers in this town. "The transportation situation is going to be difficult because a lot of these parents are not going to let their kids go that far away," he adds. "If it was a good walking distance ... no problem." Lane wonders why the facility can't go on two dilapidated tennis courts in Armbrister Park, where the West Grove Boys & Girls Club is, or in a nearby park known as the Barnyard, which also has unused courts. Then there is the new jewel of West Grove, Virrick Park, which after a long, racially charged political struggle finally received a multimillion-dollar renovation that was completed last year.

Indeed, the geo-racial politics are getting nettlesome. "If it's for the kids of West Grove, let's do it in West Grove. Plain and simple," admonishes Shawn Welch, executive director of the Greater St. Paul AME Church Community Development Corporation. Welch grew up in the black Grove, and her late fiancé Neal Colzie ran the local Boys & Girls Club unit until his death in 2001. "It's very important to me that the kids in West Grove get taken care of," she continues. "And whatever I have to do to help fight for them I will." Welch was planning to organize a door-to-door survey of West Grove residents to determine interest. "We need to get more people involved to find out if that's what we need, [or] if that's in our best interest right now. I mean we have three parks here." (Despite these reactions, leaders of the West Grove Homeowners and Tenants Association and the Coconut Grove Local Development Corporation have indicated they support the Peacock Park location.)

Beyond the conundrum of putting a roller hockey rink for West Grove kids outside of West Grove, the plan has set off a cultural clash that has been simmering for several years over the fate of poor little Peacock Park. Frustrated that the parks department was not using impact fees collected from special events promoters to improve and beautify the park, Terry and David Villano (the latter is a soccer coach at Ransom Everglades High School) formed Friends of PP in September of 2002. Terry recently drew up a rendering of some of the group's ideas. In the large area city planners have slated for the roller hockey rink, the rendering envisions roaming peacocks, a butterfly garden, a small amphitheater with portable stage (working name: The Above Us Only Sky Theater), trees, and open space. A sandy volleyball area would go next to the existing basketball court. Half of the Glass House, which currently houses offices of the North/East Coconut Grove Neighborhood Enhancement Team, would be returned to the people for recreation, arts, and cultural programs, as well as public meetings. The other half of the building would become a bayview bar and café with an outdoor patio adjacent to chess and domino tables. Terry emphasizes that these are only ideas. He simply wants everyone "to work together to make Peacock Park a great place again."

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