Turf wars: DePaul students left out of bounds with access to Wish Field

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(Parker Asmann / The DePaulia)

(Parker Asmann / The DePaulia)

Luscious green fields that stretch as far as the eyes can see, where students can laugh and throw a Frisbee or just relax and catch up with friends — everyone has imagined this picturesque image at one time or another. Most college students have even been involved in these activities.

Yet DePaul students have come down with a case of the landlocked blues, as the urban environment the campus embraces doesn’t quite provide the space needed to recreationally accompany more than 20,000 students and faculty.

Each year, students turn to Wish Field and the Ray Meyer Fitness Center to fill their need of a space to go to escape the concrete jungle surrounding them. From recreational and intramural sports to official DePaul athletics, students have utilized both consistently.

But this year with the newly replaced field turf, DePaul’s lack of space has been further exposed as students have been turned away from Wish Field for reasons unknown to them. It’s left students to wonder whether or not they are authorized to use the new turf.

“There were a few occasions this summer and earlier this year after the turf was installed where we were asked to leave Wish Field, even though we were just playing soccer like we had done in the past,” Pablo Zayas, a senior marketing major at DePaul, said. “We just wanted to know why we couldn’t play anymore.”

Zayas said he was confused because he and other students recreationally played on Wish Field during his first three years at DePaul. Making matters more confusing, Wish Field was also open to the public throughout the summer.

During the summer, the athletic department partnered with local community groups and allowed them access to the field when school was not in session. Despite the short-term agreement, the athletic department saw community members utilizing the field as a public space rather than the private space that it was intended to be for DePaul students and faculty.

As a result, this caused the staff to meticulously monitor the field, giving students the feeling of being unwanted. Mike Lenti, director of athletics facilities at DePaul, expressed little worry about the DePaul community using the field.

“DePaul students (using the field) are not our concern, and we have absolutely no issue allowing them access,” Lenti said. “However, it’s not that simple. There’s obviously a pecking order type system as Wish Field was designed for our athletic program, and it’s the only space we’ve got.”

A sign at Wish Field states that the field is reserved for DePaul students and personnel only with a valid id. (Parker Asmann / The DePaulia)

A sign at Wish Field states that the field is reserved for DePaul students and personnel only with a valid id. (Parker Asmann / The DePaulia)

Aside from the Ray Meyer Fitness Center that has provided basketball, volleyball, and other courts for students to use, students do not have an alternative to Wish Field where the only other public parks available in the area are Oz Park just east of campus, and Jonquil Park farther to the north.

On a good day, Lenti and his staff have a full 12 hours to work with when scheduling the necessary practices for the day. With both men’s and women’s soccer, fall softball workouts, club football and other intermural sports filling up his fall schedule, Lenti said every second of those 12 hours is crucial. Consequently, it has left students who want to use the field recreationally having to find somewhere else to play.

Daniel Zurita, a freshman resident at Corcoran Hall, expressed his discontent with being asked to kindly leave the field by public safety officers after only being able to enjoy playing soccer with his friends for a couple of minutes.

“We just don’t have anywhere else to go and it really bums me out,” Zurita said. “It’s so convenient having the field right outside of my dorm, and it’s a safe place to play and escape the stress of classes.”

Another potential issue for Lenti and his staff is safety on the field, which he said is a top priority. They’re required to monitor and oversee the duration of any activity that takes place on or in any athletic facility on campus to ensure the well-being of the participants, whether official or recreational.

“Regardless of who is on the field, a monitor needs to be present,” Lenti said. “We can’t control if games end early or things get cut short, making the field appear as if it’s open, but the gates are locked after the staff leaves at a certain time each day, and public safety is told to ask anyone to leave that’s on the field when the gates are locked.”

Lenti said all DePaul students have the option to reach out directly to him and his staff to schedule a specific time to utilize the field when it doesn’t conflict with any other athletic events. With 12-hour days dwindling down to single digits as winter approaches, the already small window of extra time has nearly disappeared.

“Ideally, the addition of lights over Wish Field would offer us a lot more flexibility with scheduling,” Lenti said. “I give a tremendous amount of credit to our academic advisors who work so hard to schedule these athletes’ classes around the practice times we have available on the field.”

Rodrigo Aldecoa, a resident advisor at Seton Hall, hoped that the field could be shared, as many times those occupying it are only using one half of the field.

“In previous years we would always play on the field without any issues, and if the coaches asked us to leave we never had any problem doing so,” Aldecoa said. “But there were times that they didn’t mind sharing either.”

Although sharing the field in this manner would provide optimal usage, Lenti said that it was more of a liability concern rather than the sole fact that there were students on the field while athletic practices were being conducted.

“I don’t know if a softball player is going to crank one and hit a student playing on the other end of the field,” Lenti said. “We’re liable for those injuries, and that’s something that we can’t risk out there. It’s just not worth it.”

While other public and private universities situated outside city limits have significantly more space to utilize in providing students and athletes with places to practice and play, DePaul’s urban campus remains landlocked with little room to spare. The issue isn’t rooted in who is authorized to use the spaces, but more so in the lack of space that has provided Lenti and his staff with the difficult task of scheduling.

“All we want is a safe place that allows us to play without conflict, and if Wish Field is too crowded, we should have another place to go to unwind,” Zayas said.