New field makes long-awaited debut


The spring season means a new sports playing field on the John F. Kennedy High School campus will get its first tests.

Oscar Martinez has coached the varsity defensive line and tight ends on the Kennedy football team since the end of 2020 and has been fighting for the field to be redone for just about as long.

From start to finish, the entire process took three years and cost $5 million.

It all started after a student tripped on a hole in the old field, resulting in a broken arm. Martinez became concerned other students could hurt themselves, he said, so he took it upon himself to ensure the field was redone, ideally as a turf field.

Part of his appeal for funding a turf field was backed by school data showing Kennedy teams had a 100 percent graduation rate, making an investment in the athletic facilities pivotal for the success of the students.

Bronx borough president Vanessa Gibson, Councilwoman Carmen De La Rosa, and Councilman Eric Dinowitz contributed all of the funding necessary for the field project through their discretionary funds.

In Martinez’s research, he was given an estimate of $7.5 million by a contractor to put turf down, re-do the lighting, re-do the drainage, and re-do the track. But, he said, he knew he had $5 million with which to work, so he made the project work within that budget.

Martinez worked in corporate sales for 12 years, so he knew where to negotiate until he found the best deals.

One of the most desired features for the new field was a video scoreboard. Martinez said he fought for it because he believed it would present an opportunity for students to practice video editing and digital media, career paths they could pursue after high school.

Martinez said the hardest part of the process was getting in front of someone who would listen to him. He said, because no one knew who he was there was a steep barrier to entry for negotiations, but his barrage of emails and phone calls to city council members, the school construction authority, and anyone else who would listen worked in his favor.

Martinez credits the success of the project with his refusal to quit until the job was done. “I was really advocating for the kids and the community,” he said. “Public schools don’t get a lot of recognition, they don’t get a lot of funding.”

He said he was advised that, if he were to follow the traditional route of appealing to the education department and in turn appealing to the state, getting the new field elements could take four years.

He began reaching out in 2021, but quickly became discouraged by the lack of response and the eventual no-go issued from city council.

But the borough president’s office offered Martinez other outlets to find funding after he was turned away from the school’s capital budget. In his pleas, he also turned to Dinowitz and De La Rosa, asking them to come see Kennedy and meet students to understand what was really at stake.

Dinowitz said he felt this project was personal, as he use to teach at one of the schools on campus. So finding funds for the field’s track was an easy sell. He said he was also aware the field had become dangerous, with children rolling their ankles.

The redone field is “going to give students the experience they deserve,” Dinowitz said. “I am really proud as someone who worked on that campus to be able to ensure that our schools got the funding they needed.”

Every council member can earmark $5 million in capital funding to local initiatives he or she deems worthy. Dinowitz not only invested $1 million in the field, he also appealed to Speaker Adrienne Adams to fund the last $2 million for further development of the athletic facilities.

The finished field is regulation football-sized but also has soccer lines and will be utilized by the girls flag football team and physical education classes. The adjacent baseball field was also given an upgrade with resodding, and the track around the football field was replaced, as well.

The field was officially completed in November of 2023 and lights went up in January, making it one of very few schools in New York City on which students can play under the lights.

School response has been good, according to Martinez. He said he wanted to help change the stigma of the Bronx playing catch-up, so, for him, this field symbolizes more than a place for students to play, it’s showing the students their is a higher standard of excellence being offered to them.

“It really brought together school pride,” Martinez said. “It’s difficult because the field is set up for seven schools, so it unifies them under one umbrella.”

As beautiful as the new field is, Martinez said, he has his eyes set on one last project, replacing the bleachers to make them wheelchair and ADA-accessible.


Kennedy High School Sports field renovation Council funding Coach Martinez Student safety Turf field Bronx borough president School facilities upgrade ADA-accessible bleachers Community pride