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District, city and Seneca officials join to cut ribbon at new Vets Park

Officials from the school district, Seneca Nation and local government dignitaries came together Tuesday to recognize the completion of a multi-year process to renovate Veterans Memorial Park into a $16-million multi-sport facility.

“Welcome to Veterans Memorial Park on the Allegany Territory of the Seneca Nation in the City of Salamanca,” superintendent Robert Breidenstein said to begin the ceremony.

The renovation project brought new turf fields for football, soccer baseball and box lacrosse, a large video scoreboard and bright lights to the city’s park, which was turned over to the school district for full use upon completion of the complex. The park also holds team rooms for football, lacrosse and soccer, a baseball clubhouse, concessions stands and an outdoor basketball court, with a walking path for access across to the different areas.

To start the ceremony, in a student-produced video, Carson Redeye and Amos Whitcomb recited Ganö:nyök, a thanksgiving address traditionally used in the Onöndowa’ga’ (Seneca) community to give gratitude for all that is provided on the earth. The school chorus performed the national anthem in a video and the Salamanca Veterans of Foreign War and American Legion Post 535 presented the colors and performed a 21-gun salute in honor of fallen soldiers.

The project was the result of cooperation between the Seneca Nation, city government and school district.

“The Salamanca City Central School District acknowledges the diverse community members of the indigenous nations, their spiritual spiritual and physical relationships to the environment, their rights, their resiliency, their sovereignty and their heritage,” Breidenstein said. “We acknowledge and we stand with all indigenous people in their staunch resolve to remain connected to this land. On behalf of the Salamanca school district, I am honored and welcomed to the dedication and invite all of Salamanca to enjoy Veterans Memorial Park.”

The multi-purpose (football, field lacrosse, soccer) field has already seen use with spring football starting in April, while baseball and lacrosse games are soon to come this month. Next fall, Salamanca will hold soccer games at Vets Park. Breidenstein said “as soon as we can safely host in this park,” the district will welcome the Seneca Nation for the annual Marvin Joe Curry Veterans Pow Wow.

Breidenstein recognized six “Warrior Legends” from multiple sports that will play on the field: former lacrosse star Marty Redeye; the late Andrea Morton, one of the school’s first girls soccer players and the namesake for the school’s annual tournament; former football coaches Joe Sanfilippo and George Whitcher; and Chuck Crist, a multi-sport star in high school who played for three NFL teams in the 1970s. Breidenstein hailed Crist, who died last year, as “the best player ever to have competed for Salamanca.”

Crist’s family members were honored with front-row seats to watch the ceremony. Morton’s parents, Rich and Julie, joined Salamanca soccer players in kicking ceremonial “first goals” into the net.

Other sports held similar “firsts” on the field, with board member Kerry John leading lacrosse players in shooting goals on a lacrosse net, baseball coach Grey Nannen throwing a first pitch (recorded on video earlier in the day) to catcher Shawn Bacelli and football players tossing passes into the end zone.

“For our athletes and fans, this dedication is the intersection of past and future Warriors,” Breidenstein said.

Speakers included Board of Education President Theresa Ray, Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels, U.S. Representative Tom Reed, Salamanca mayor Sandra Magiera and representatives for state assemblyman Joe Giglio and senator George Borrello, who could not attend as both were in Albany.

Ray discussed the process that led to the district controlling the park and voters approving the renovation project. Construction took 13 months, starting in April 2020, but the idea first saw movement in 2017, when Breidenstein met with city officials, then in formal talks with Seneca Nation officials in early 2018 to discuss a sublease. The Nation approved the 50-year sublease, supported by a 92% vote. With no additional tax impact — drawing from capital reserves, state and federal aid and state bond — the capital project also saw overwhelming voter support at 88% in May 2019. Contractors broke ground on April 6, 2019.

“Just 13 months and a few change orders later, we have this magnificent athletic complex that not only our school can be proud of but also our community,” Ray said. “We are the envy of every other surrounding district and I love it. We have a destination athletic complex that will draw teams from outside our area.But this renovation would not have been possible without the Seneca Nation, City of Salamanca and the Salamanca School District all working together. This proves that when we all come together, we can accomplish great things.”

Pagels said he was happy to take part in the celebration of opening the new Vets Park, as the park “holds a special place in the hearts of many Seneca families.” Pagels said he even played a few lacrosse games on the field himself.

“That’s why the nation was happy to be consulted in the planning of this project and why so many people have been watching so closely,” Pagels said. “It’s amazing to see the transformation that’s taken place. The entire community, not just the youth in the community, but the entire community is excited. Small communities are strengthened by common bonds. I see the great progress and strengthened bonds in the last few years. A congrats must be given to all here today, not only for the opening of the park, but just as important, the educational accomplishments that have been noticed by the Seneca Nation, the region and the state.”

Reed echoed his fellow speakers in commending the different partners who came together to build this new Vets Park, telling Ray her words “what if?” were spot on.

“What if a sovereign nation reached out to its partners in the city and its school district and its federal and state government partners and came together with a common vision,” Reed said, “standing in the vision of its student-athletes such as Marty and Andrea and Chuck Crist, and inspired the vision of a $16 million complex that we’re standing at today. Many people would laugh at that question, but you and that nation and this community and those government partners proved them wrong and we stood together to cut this virtual ribbon and stand before the largest jumbotron I think I’ve seen outside of Rich Stadium.

“To work together to deliver the resources without caring who got credit, who gets credit to stand on the legacy of the past. To thank the veterans who provided us this freedom in order for us to enjoy the moments of today and tomorrow to come, and for us to stand together to recognize our past, to thank our partners and to inspire the next generation of student athletes and teach them the life lessons that many have learned here at Vets Park and will learn for generations to come in this wonderful facility that we honor here today.”

Sam Wilson, Salamanca Press


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