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Crestwood Soccer Club, mayor at odds over field space

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Holding signs and chanting “Save our club,” about 60 supporters of a Crestwood youth soccer organization picketed Tuesday outside the village hall to protest Mayor Lou Presta’s plan to make the club share field space with the public and allow the village to audit its finances.

Presta said, “We just want the people to know they can play in any park they want.”

The Crestwood Soccer Club, which has used the site for decades, is headed by one of Presta’s political foes, John Toscas, who ran against Presta in the April election. Toscas is a village trustee and president of the Crestwood Soccer Club.

“I think it is absolutely wrong, 100 percent,” said Kathy Somerfield, whose four boys have participated in the Crestwood Soccer Club. “My question is, why do they want to do this now?”

The fields, just south of 138th Street near Lavergne Avenue, are on ComEd land with electrical lines overhead.

According to soccer club board members, former Mayor Chester Stranczek agreed 32 years ago to let the club use the property rent-free after the village signed an agreement with the utility company. Soccer club volunteers have maintained the land and raised money for field upgrades such as fencing, a gate, a storage garage and soccer goals.

Presta previously announced plans to make the park available to the public. It now is used solely for the soccer organization, which has 40 recreational teams and five travel teams.

Presta also has said he wants to make all organizations that use the field subject to annual audits. His plans call for creating a seven-member parks commission and a director of parks and recreation position.

The Crestwood Village Board is expected to vote on the changes at its next meeting, at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Crestwood Civic Center.

Presta said his intention isn’t to chase anyone off the field.

“As long as there’s no practice or game going on, people have the right to play there,” he said.

Presta rejected claims that the decision was politically motivated, saying it was in the works before the election.

“How could it be a vendetta?” Presta said. “If it’s a vendetta, maybe the other side has a vendetta for losing the election.”

Toscas was not at the protest and is expected to abstain from voting on the park changes because of the conflict of interest. His son, Mychal Toscas, was at the protest, waving an American flag.

“What they’re doing is completely unconstitutional,” said Mychal Toscas, who also is a member of the soccer club’s board. “We want to stop the ordinance from being passed which will kick our children off the field.”

Connor Mottl, 9, who plays forward, midfield and goalie for the club’s Croatia team, was at the protest and had his own concerns about the village’s plans.

“All the other people will mess up the field and it’s not fun to play on anymore,” Mottl said.

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