by Laura Russo
The Roosevelt Island United Football Club held its first tryouts on May 16 on the Octagon Park soccer field, with over 80 children vying for spots. While it was deemed a success by head coach John Palladino, a dispute with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) over field permits came close to ending the event prematurely.
The tryouts began at 10:00 a.m., and by 10:30, Palladino was assessing the skills of approximately 50 children, divided into four groups, when Millie Reyes, a permitting assistant for RIOC, arrived on the site. According to Palladino and other witnesses, she informed Palladino that RIOC had not received payment, and in order to continue, someone was required to provide payment immediately. In addition, Palladino was informed that the club had not provided insurance, and the field would need to be vacated immediately.
Palladino said that he informed Reyes that the permits were absolutely in order, and asked that she speak with his wife, Catherine Palladino, who was on site, or interim club president John Massey. “I was in the middle of coaching, and this distraction caused a safety problem. I’m responsible for these kids on the field,” he said.
Palladino continued working with the kids on the field when Reyes reportedly became aggressive and threatened to shut down the tryouts. Palladino said he again asked her to speak with an associate so that he could continue working with the kids, assuring her that all the permits were in order. He later explained, “I was sure that there was just a miscommunication and not a real issue. I said that we would definitely take care of whatever is the problem, but please allow me to continue focusing on the kids.”
RIOC permit regulations specify that, in addition to the permit application, permit fees and proof of insurance are required in advance of field-permit issuance.
Reyes reportedly informed Catherine Palladino that the group wasn’t allowed on the field because payment wasn’t received. According to Palladino, she had personally hand-delivered the payment the previous day.
Catherine Palladino said she was finally able to convince Reyes to have John Palladino sign the permit that Reyes had on hand, so that he could continue to focus on the kids. She said that, in spite of this, about 15 minutes later an officer from Public Safety arrived, informing her that he had been called by Reyes because the group was being disrespectful, and they were to vacate the field by her orders.
According to John Palladino, the officer from Public Safety told him he would not shut down the tryouts. Catherine described the officer as “great and very friendly... in full support of what we are doing for the kids.” She continued, “He was wondering why he was called to remove a group of 50 happy kids.”
Witnesses said that the Public Safety officer left and tryouts continued without further disruption.
When asked about the incident, interim club president Massey said that initially, the incident “really shut down the momentum” of the tryouts, and that the actions of RIOC “set the wrong tone.” He added, “As a parent, all I saw was RIOC trying to ruin the kids’ fun.”
The May 16 incident was the first time that John Palladino encountered a major issue with RIOC regarding permits. He said he is very familiar with the process, having applied for permits over the past three years, specifically working with Donna Masly, program coordinator for RIOC. “We’ve met eye-to-eye, worked cohesively and successfully. She’s fantastic and has worked to make our program a priority,” he said.
When contacted about the incident, RIOC did not respond to the specific details of the allegations, and instead issued a statement: "The Roosevelt Island United Football Club did not have a permit for the May 16th use of the fields. It is of utmost importance that organized groups have the proper insurance, proper supervision and the rules and regulations as to usage of the permitted areas to insure that all residents and groups can enjoy our fields.
In the event that a group or organization reserves a field but does not submit the required documents in time to do so, Public Safety will be notified and will ensure that the non-complying group is escorted off the field. It is important to note that all fees are due and payable prior to the issuance of any approved permit. In addition, use of the fields will not be permitted unless a valid insurance certificate has been received prior to the scheduled date of use of the field. Our permit application and general guidelines can be found at http://www.rioc.ny.gov/generalapp.htm"
In response to RIOC’s statement, Massey said, “Was there really a concern that he [Palladino] didn’t have the ‘proper insurance, proper supervision, and the rules and regulations as to usage of the permitted area,’ especially after working with RIOC three times a week, every week, over the past three years?” He said, “If there was an issue, why didn’t RIOC attempt to work with the program prior to the event, rather than try to shut it down 30 minutes into tryouts?”
Massey said that partnership with RIOC is paramount for the RIUFC. “Bottom line is having a relationship with RIOC, with everyone working together for the kids. As someone who volunteers time to the club, [I] obviously hope to get past this and work closely with RIOC going forward.”
Palladino said that while the permit process is not without its kinks, he is willing to work with RIOC to do what is necessary in order for the club to have the necessary field time. “The programs [RIUFC and Palladino Academy] are serving our kids, giving them elite training, giving them opportunity, giving them a reason not to get into trouble after school.” He said, “RIOC can aid us in our vision, we can work together to provide a great opportunity for the kids on this Island.”