Light the Way For Safety

If we as a community are committed to supporting the DJFL, we must also be committed to ensuring the safety of our young athletes and coaches by properly lighting the playing fields.

Darien is a fantastic town in which to raise a family.  It offers a very high quality public education system, wonderful recreational parks and beaches, and extensive sports programs for children from toddlers to teens.  There are a wide variety of sports offered to enthusiastic young athletes throughout the year coached by volunteer moms and dads, school professionals, and other professional sports organizations.  

There is, however, one aspect of our town sports programs that lags in comparison to other towns in Fairfield County, that being limited fields on which to play the sports. As a result, the demand for field time for practices and games can require the entire day on the weekends and the entire afternoon into the evening on school days.

If we as a community are committed to supporting our sports programs, such as the Darien Junior Football League, we must also be committed to ensuring the safety of our young athletes and coaches. Practice is extremely necessary at all levels of the football league to properly condition the athletes to avoid injuries during the games.  The early sunset in the late fall necessitates lighting of the town’s fields for practices.  It is not sufficient, however, to have temporary lights at football practices if they do not adequately illuminate the playing field to ensure everyone’s safety.

Darien’s Board of Education and Darien Junior Football League are concerned over the inadequate lighting the current 20-foot light pole height provides. Based on the results of the extensive and expensive light study the DJFL was required to conduct in 2010, they would like to raise the height of the temporary lights used at football practices to 30 feet. The test results showed that the higher pole height would allow the light to shine more directly on to the playing field allowing for proper illumination without additional glare and light spillage on neighboring houses. 

I too believe we shouldn’t be “thankful” or satisfied with 20-foot temporary lights that are currently allowed if they are creating unsafe practice conditions for Darien players and coaches. If we as a community are committed to having a football program, then it is our responsibility as a town, not just the DJFL’s, to ensure the participants' safety. Raising the pole heights seems to be a simple, logical solution to a potentially dangerous situation and is worthy of consideration by the Planning and Zoning Commission. 

DJFL representatives first introduced their proposal to amend a town regulation to allow for the potential to have 30-foot lights in outdoor recreational facilities at the last Planning and Zoning public meeting held in May.   The discussion will continue at the next public meeting with the Planning and Zoning Commission that is scheduled for June 26th at 8pm at Town Hall.  Anyone interested in learning more about the proposal can visit the Darien Junior Football League website to find FAQ’s and additional information regarding the P&Z meeting held last May. 


Editor's note: This is one of two opinion articles favoring the proposal for higher lights on the two football fields (see also: ""). If you would like to add your voice to the debate on Darien Patch, you can add comments below either article or submit your own letter to the editor or op-ed piece to darien@patch.com. Patch welcomes robust discussion from people representing different sides of any issue.



This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Michalski June 12, 2012 at 03:34 PM
There is much misinformation flying around and a great deal of "blue smoke and mirrors" being used to paint a "need" for 30 foot lights in the name of safety. IN FACT, no one has ever suggested that 20 foot lights are "creating unsafe practice conditions". IN FACT, if they were unsafe then the DJFL and DHS coaches should have pulled their kids off the field immediately in year 1 of the test and gone back to P&Z to document the "unsafe" conditions and request a change. IN FACT, no such claims of "unsafe" conditions were asserted, implied, claimed or even suggested by the DJFL or DHS during the 3 years of the trials. IN FACT, the DJFL and DHS expressed publicly that the 20 foot lights had created very satisfactory and safe practice conditions. John Sini, on behalf of the DJFL, said in a letter to the editor "Our players were properly prepared in safely lit practice environments." Rob Trifone wrote on the DHS website "the temporary lights were awesome. The lights not only enabled us to hold a regular length practice, but also helps us to prevent injuries". IN FACT, the push for 30 foot lights is not really about safety--it is about wanting more. If you doubt the real agenda, consider this quote from a recent widely distributed e-mail from a DJFL coach talking about the current applications: “The goal is to someday watch our children, grandchild or siblings play under permanent lights at DHS.” IN FACT, the best way to teach our kids honesty is by example.
John Sini June 12, 2012 at 04:04 PM
You are correct, Paul. It's not simply about safety. It's about ENHANCED safety for our youth and student athletes. There is no dispute that those on the field during the tests witnessed anything but an enhaced atmosphere on the field. In fact, This was even pointed out by a DHS neighbor that stood on the field during the test with BOE reps, DJFL reps, and school administrators. As representatives for our child athletes it is our goal to make the fields as safe as possible with the current limitations we have. It is also a fact that the 30' lights created no measureable impact on the surrounding area -- varying amounts of moonlight impacted the evironmental measurements, not the lights' height. I certainly cant speak for everyone in town, but I gather there are many, many parents in this town that would someday like to see their children or grandchildren play in the safest conditions under the lights (like every single one of our peer towns)-- that's not a secret based on the overwhelming support the '08 application recieved. But the fact is, that's not what is currently being proposed with this application. The BOE and DJFL are simply looking to maximize the equipment we currently utilize to make it as safe as possible for our children.
Peter Graham June 12, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Mr. Michalski, I am the DJFL coach that you have referenced in your above post, and I am also the father of current 8th and 4th grade boys. I am also the coach who has volunteered my time for the past 7 years coaching teams in the DJFL, Darien Little League and the YMCA basketball programs. I am also the coach, who has volunteered my free time coaching the quarterback's at Darien High School for the past 4 years, so I have no problem standing by my words. What is wrong in wanting something almost every other town in Fairfield county has for your own town, a place where you volunteer endless hours. But that isn't the issue at hand. We are asking the P&Z to raise the height of our temporary lighting by 10 feet at Town Hall and DHS to improve the lighting on the fields and to provide safer practice enviornment for the children and coaches involved. That is the issue at hand.
Paul Michalski June 12, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Mr. Graham, I am a neighbor of DHS who has been living there and raising my children for 12 years. What is wrong in wanting what all other residential neighborhoods in Darien enjoy--the absence of I-95 construction-site lights behind their house? There is nothing wrong in wanting something, as long as it does not come at the expense of another person. Unfortunately, the DHS fields are not like the facilities of many other towns--they are smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood--and lights change that neighborhood for the worse. It is particularly troubling when the thing you want at someone else's expense is a "nice to have" rather than a "need to have". Darien teams have flourished without lights for decades. 20 foot lights have provided a safe enough situation that responsible coaches have practiced under them for 3 years. "Need to have" has natural limits. "Nice to have" has none. As long as the agenda is about "nice to have", 10 more feet is not the issue at hand--it is just the next starting point.
Debra Ritchie June 12, 2012 at 06:46 PM
This is not a nice to have. This is an enhanced safety issue. We should make the fields as safe as possible for our children and community.
Peggy Barthold June 12, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Mr. Michalski, Thank you for sharing the fact that your opposition to the 30-foot lights has nothing to do with the merits of the current proposal. It is clear your worries are concerns of what might happen in the future--which none of us can predict. Boards and Commissions change, views change, neighbors move, etc. I would like to address your comment regarding lights "in the middle of a residential neighborhood"...if you drive past Brien McMahon High School 300 Highland Ave. in Norwalk they have a stadium with lights and it is smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood and those houses are clearly closer to the stadium and school then many of the ones around DHS. We have had four children go through the DJFL program and we are in support of anything that will enhance the safety of the children who play on the fields in the town of Darien.
Paul Michalski June 12, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Ms. Barthold, my point is that there is much more at issue than 10 feet, but I am opposed to the increase. 30 foot lights are not better for any neighbors and worse from the standpoint of some neighbors (not to mention the fact that the zoning amendment opens up the possibility of 30 foot lights at every tennis court, paddle court, basketball court, athletic field and park in the Town). This was witnessed in 2010 by members of P&Z and its staff as well as representatives of DHS and documented by a neighbors report submitted to P&Z at the time. The measurements in the Hygenix report are irrelevant measurements meant to distract the Commission from the relevant standards in its own regulations. If you really are in support of "anything that will enhance" safety, then may I respectfully suggest you consider supporting elimination of any lights and keeping our kids playing in daylight, as they have safely and successfully for generations.
Andrea Cragin June 12, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Thank you Paul for your comments. It is important that we as a community discuss this topic. I have a couple of follow-up comments in response to yours: 1) The current 20' lights are safer than the previous condition of practicing after sunset on an unlit field, however, they do not adequately light the ends of the field and cause the players to crowd into the middle creating safety issues 2) As, Peggy Barthold pointed out, our neighboring town's football fields are in residential areas. In addition to Norwalk, Greenwich High School, which recently got permanent lights, is in the middle of a populated residential area 3) The Temporary lights that the Board of Ed and the DJFL would like to raise 10 feet are used only around 4 weeks each year after Daylight Savings Time ends and the football playoff season continues 4) Due to the popularity of DJFL programs and due to the limited fields that we have here in Darien, it is not possible for the kids to play only in the daylight since that would limit practice time to end around 4pm in the late fall. Two of Darien's public elementary schools do not get out until 3:20 leaving no time for after school practices. Not practicing is not an option in tackle football 5) If the P&Z regulation is changed to allow for the POSSIBILITY of 30' TEMPORARY lights at outdoor recreational facilities, each case would have to reviewed by the P&Z commission and town residents will have their chance to be heard if they oppose such lights.
John Sini June 12, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Paul, you started this string, wanting to speak about the facts, yet you continue to stray from the facts. The record shows that a member of the P&Z Commission stated that the impact of the 30-foot lights on the surrounding properties "wasn't worse, a little better, maybe." Another Commission member that same evening stated "I am trying to find a way to get you 30-foot lights" after reviewing the test results and hearing about the positive benefit on the field.  It was the Commission that required that the BOE and DJFL conduct an unbiased expert study on the impact on the neighborhood. The fact is higher lights didn't negatively impact the surrounding area, but varying levels of moonlight has greater impacts.  Now the results of this test should be deemed unworthy? Your worries over every paddle court in town having 30 foot lights is unfounded given the proposed change only allows allows temporary lights to be raised.  The Commission may chose to limit the change to public properties or properties greater than 5 acres which would further limit the possibility of higher lights on private properties.
Siwanoy June 12, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Andrea, ", they do not adequately light the ends of the field and cause the players to crowd into the middle creating safety issues " The issue here wouldn't be the lights then, it would be that the players are crowding the past 3 years the lights were adequate, but now they aren't? Before they weren't causing a safety issue, but now they are? Lights can't cause an issue by themselves, perhaps it is caused by the amount of lighting AND the amount of youths on the field. 2) Speaking to GHS specifically, it has a 4 land road behind the stadium on one side, the school on another, the other 2 sides? 1 is up a steep cliff about 3 stories high and the other is a single house. As i'm sure you aware, DHS stadium (is there a name for the stadium?) has neither a sharp cliff nor a 4 land road next to it 3) If the argument can be made that its only for such a short amount of time that they are used (4 weeks), and thus doesn't cause a major inconvenience and should be done, then the opposite is true... its for such a short amount of time, only 4 weeks, those extra hours of practice shouldn't make a difference in the overall experience of the child. 4) I understand there are many many kids who play youth sports in town, at what point do we reach a limit? Is it based of off field availability? Or do we just keep adding players and teams? Surely there must be cuts at some point.. but when?
LJ June 12, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Siwanoy... Not even sure where to begin here. There are varsity teams at the High School level that don't cut kids. Are you proposing we start making cuts in 4th grade football? "Well Jimmy, you're 9 years old and you have no future in this sport... Thanks for coming out." And 4 weeks, while only 1/13th of a full year (is my math right?), represents more than 1/3rd of the Fall football season. So that 4 week period actually does makes a huge difference.
Jim Coley June 12, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Paul, Thank you for your comments but as the current President of the DJFL I take exception to your comments which I specifically addressed in my opening remarks to the P&Z two weeks ago. Safety is something that it so continuously pursued by the DJFL. If better training or better equipment becomes available, we will as a Board incorporate this into our town league. Similarly, if incremental changes can be made to make the field safer, we as a town owe it to both the players and the coaches on the field to continuously pursue safer environments for our practices. It is a fact that the higher lights both achieve a a safer environment without any noticeable additional "trespass" light to the surrounding neighborhood. Those are the scientific facts that were presented. In additon, simple geometry indicates that there is less spillage and less glare when angling the lights at a higher height--this was confirmed by a Musco representative which more experience than any single other person in Darien. To ignore those facts flies in the face of the studies that were required by the P&Z at a great expense to the DJFL and makes a mockery of the process we all so much believe in. We need to take the emotion out of the debate and use expert witnesses to help guide us to what can be EVEN a MORE SAFER environment. Feel free to contact me directly if you would like to discuss in person.
sebastian dangerfield June 13, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Mr Michulski If honesty is your goal--did you honestly buy your home in 2000 , when there were fireworks celebrations, outdoor track meets, day time football games, nightime concerts, night time basketball games, volleyball, cars driving in and out--buses returning from away games late at night--did you HONESTLY think you had bought a home that was in a designated quiet zone? I find it a very dishonest argument to say that you are being materially affected by any traffic or noise that may accompany when traffic and noise already existed. Can you please differentiate for those people you want to educate on this thread, how the noise, traffic and lights did not annoy you on July 4th. But can annoy you on Oct 4th> And in your explanation, please remember that fireworks begin in earnest around 9pm --whereas practices , from what I understand, do not come close to that time. Thanks for the honest example that you wish to set. Because Im sure it wont be justifying, your stance--it will be acknowledging that you were aware of your purchase in a neighborhood that did in fact have traffic and noise and that living on a main road with through access did not signify any consideration of a particular aversion to noise or traffic. Right? If you are honest?
John Sini June 13, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Here is a link to a video of the test. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZWigcPn2j4&feature=youtube_gdata_player
sebastian dangerfield June 13, 2012 at 05:08 PM
how can anyone deal with siwanoy? He argues for the sake of arguing. HIs aim is not to reach a creative solution, but poke holes in arguments...which would almost be ok--except he makes little or no sense. "If 4 weeks should not matter to neighbors, then the opposite is true. 4 weeks shouldnt matter to the football players." Its so ridiculous, why does he bother?? You can argue that way all day. If there is one car that come through the high school neighborhood a day--then who cares if its 2000 a day? After all, they come one at a time. Such blather.
Siwanoy June 13, 2012 at 09:21 PM
LJ, i totally agree that 4 weeks is a significant chunk of the season for these kids and parents, I was simply pointing out that we shouldn't diminish how much time it really is. In regards to the playing time / cutting point; The high school doesn't need to cut as many players since much less turn out for the sports and they have adequate fields for all the teams. It seems that the youth sports are the ones who are pressed for field space, in my observations and experience at least. Luca, I look forward to seeing you on June 26th at the Town hall, after all, you're argued with me extensively on the last article about this, so the issue seems to be close to you're heart. .
Jim Coley June 14, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Siwanoy (is that your real name?) While I appreciate your comments, I have to beg to differ with this one quoted above: "The high school doesn't need to cut as many players since much less turn out for the sports and they have adequate fields for all the teams. " As both the youth football president whom has observed numerous high school practices, and more importantly, having personally coached the DHS freshman football team for part of the 2009 season, your comment could not be further from the truth. Speaking only about the high school football program, the high school football teams (all levels: varsity, JV and freshman) are severally under resourced vis a vis field space. Both the varsity and the JV teams had to practice on numerous days on half the stadium turf (the other half given to girls field hockey whom I am sure felt likewise)--that is probably close to 80-90 players in a small area. The freshman team was pushed to the lower JV baseball grass field behind the DHS stadium visitor stands which was not properly lined, often wet, and did not resemble a football field in its dimensions. When you compare us to our neighbors to the north whom have several turf fields, many of which are lighted permanently, there is no comparison and in fact all DHS sports operate under severe restrictions in terms of the amount of field space they have almost for every girl and boys sports versus every other town in the FCIAC.
Siwanoy June 14, 2012 at 02:21 AM
"The freshman team was pushed to the lower JV baseball grass field behind the DHS stadium visitor stands which was not properly lined," A field not being properly lined isn't a very big deal unless its for a game, in any event, you're better off with the field that's there now, as opposed to the waterlogged uneven soccer field that we practiced on before. I'm sure field constraints are issue, naturally everyone would like more space. Whats interesting is some of the most successful programs at DHS have dealt with severe practice restraints, the mens and women's swim team and womens volleyball programs come to mind. If your saying that DHS sports don't have access to enough fields, are they using all town fields? DHS, MMS, Royal, Bakers Field, Cherry Lawn etc? When you compare us to our neighbors in the north you'll also notice they didn't build their high school on wetlands and in boarding homes. To answer your first question, Siwanoy is not my legal name, Siwanoy is the name of the native Americans that were originally in Darien.
Jim Coley June 14, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Siwanoy, Again thanks for your frank comments. As you state, "Siwanoy is not my legal name" so you can continue to hide behind your "pen name" but I would be nice to come out and identify yourself as to where you live. As to your comment "A field not being properly lined isn't a very big deal unless its for a game", you clearly have never, ever coached football. So to help you understand why a lined field is important, let me explain:
Jim Coley June 14, 2012 at 02:45 AM
1. Football is both a vertical and horizontal game. On the horizontal aspect, 11 players on both side need to know where the boundaries are until make a decision of when to turn up versus stretching out (on offense) or when to collapse versus stretch (on defense.) Lining the field for sidelines is important to establish this. 2. Football is situational game. So it's important to practice both offense and defense in plays that, say, or 3rd and short versus, say, second and long. Lining the field for 5 yard increments is important to establish this. 3. Football is also a game of special teams: a. for extra points, having 5-yard lines to determine how two-point play can be practice is important. b. for kick off and punts, having sidelines for practice assist returners in determining the risk/reward of "cutting it up vs. stretching it out."
Siwanoy June 14, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Mr. Coley, As I said before, I'll be at that meeting at the Town Hall, so I can meet you in person there. Unfortunately due to the hostility my Darien neighbors have shown on these boards I'm not comfortable sharing that info here. I'm sorry you had to type out all that about the lines issue, as you pointed out lines would help for practice, my apologies. Obviously I'm no expert on football, but couldn't the lined field be shared during practice time? I'd imagine football is like many sports in that things like suicide runs, general conditioning, stretches are necessary, perhaps those things can be done on an unlined field. With all due respect, to number 3, i don't see the difference between using cones and having a line for the sideline or to marker to designate 5 yards out from the line of scrimmage. Professional sports teams often use cones to create sidelines or barriers at practices, i'm sure there could be some use for it in a non-professional setting as well. I look forward to meeting with you at the meeting.
Jim Coley June 14, 2012 at 10:53 AM
Siwanoy, I understand your issue on remaining anonymous on the topic having witnessed our own P&Z belittling a future DHS neighbor over his support for the lights at the last meeting, and suggesting he should have a BBQ to get his indoctrination. In my personal opinion there is way to much emotion on this topic and not enough time spent on the facts--those are that the higher temporary lights benefit all DHS neighbors and more importantly, increase safety for both the players and coaches on the playing field. Why anyone would be against a win-win for everyone is beyond me. I have personally reached out to two of the four neighbors whom are against this proposal (there where five but one moved away in the past year) at the DJFL equipment handout this past Tuesday night, and I also extend the same offer to both the Ralieghs and Paul Michalski listed above. If they have legitimate concerns, let us flesh it out behind close doors. I believe as I demonstrated in my letter to the Darien Times and here, the DJFL is willing to be flexible and that we have done so on numerous occasions.
sebastian dangerfield June 14, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Sure siwanoy Can you let me know who you are.. Ill introduce myself. After all, there will be so many people there. YOu are sincere, right? Or is this one of those instances that is "i wasnt being literal" If you are sincere in looking forward to meeting me, please make sure you let me know who Im looking for. If you dont want to meet me--or you say that I should reveal who I am--then you have simply (once again) controverted your own words.


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