Over the past two months, the Missouri Wolverines have been the victim of vandalism with increasing regularity. The field they use for practice at Heim Park in the East Bottoms, has been torn up by drivers the club is still trying to identify.
These aren’t the first cases of vandalism the Wolverines have endured. Earlier this year, the field was vandalized just days after being seeded.
“My youth football team just had the football field seeded last week so all that work was destroyed in that end zone where the truck did that,” Tuso said following the April 6 incident.
Back in April, the organization set up a GoFundMe to recoup the cost of repairing the field, which is in a Kansas City park.
But as the vandals’ visits increase in frequency, the Wolverines’ staff has jumped into action, contacting everyone from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch to Interim KC Parks and Recreation Director Roosevelt Lyons. None of them had a solution.
Missouri Wolverines President Jim Tuso, who has coached youth football in the metro for 22 years, has sought out big names across the city and county to help his cause. Tuso and his staff have installed their own security cameras pointed at the field, hoping to identify the culprits, and for years they have requested the park department install barriers to prevent vehicles from driving onto the field.
“We do lease the football field from the City, and we do a lot of the maintenance on the field itself such as mowing and adding dirt,” Tuso said.
Tuso said the barrier, each and every time, is money. While he’s been promised solutions, no action has been taken to prevent future vandalism.
According to a post from the Missouri Wolverines on Facebook, the organization was promised dirt to grade the field in July, but ended up having to buy the dirt themselves – a bill upward of $10,000 on top of their lease. Earlier this summer, with the assistance of local companies Clarkson Construction and Lotus Lawn Care, they were able to repair the park after a particularly bad incident of vandalism without help from the park department.
As seen on video footage, the most recent damage on Sept. 4 was done by the same vandals that drove onto the field on Saturday, Aug. 28. However, this time the ground of the Heim Park football field was muddy. The video showed pick-up trucks and a Prius driving on the field in circles.
“No football field should be so easily accessible that a Prius can drive on it without having to enter through some sort of gate with a key,” a Facebook post from the Wolverines read. “Barriers need to be installed to keep bad people away.”
The damage was so bad that they thought they’d have to end their season early. However, turf experts from Advanced Turf Solutions outlined a plan to save the field. After the field was aerated three times in three different directions, Public Works Director Michael Shaw sent a three-ton roller to level the playing surface, and they were able to resume games over the weekend.
Tuso said, that as a business owner in the East Bottoms, he has seen the mistreatment the park and surrounding area have received for years, but things can change. The Northeast News reported that the Wolverine’s East Bottoms neighbor, J. Rieger Distillery, plans to honor the history of Heim Electric Park with an outdoor patio space reminiscent of the popular fairground.
The organization is frustrated with the neglect of Heim Park from the park department beyond the field. According to Tuso, the children’s play area is a “huge liability and unsafe,” outdated and a hazard. They struggle to get the grass mowed and trash emptied regularly.
Within the Wolverines’ program alone, 200 youth football players are on the field five days a week, in addition to the teams that travel to play them. Tuso had a strong message for the vandals who, despite damaging the field, won’t ruin the team’s season.
“Being tough is not tearing up a field when no one is around and posting it on SnapChat,” Tuso wrote. “What is tough is being Wolverines Strong… Everyday when they look out the window of their house they are going to see Missouri Wolverines players on the field they tried to destroy, practicing and getting better.”
Tuso finally got a sit-down with a park department superintendent and a contractor on Friday. They agreed to put a four-foot perimeter fence around the field, and will begin work this Wednesday. Plans are in the works to address the field, remove the outdated playground, and install guardrails along Chestnut Trafficway.
“I think it’s great,” Tuso said. “The destruction, as sad as it was, finally blew the lid off this whole thing and brought to light all the complaining we’ve been doing within the organization to get help down here. It’s long overdue, I told them this was preventable.”
Tuso feels optimistic about the future of his organization’s relationship with the City and park department because some “major players” are now involved.
“We look to have a long-term relationship, we’re not going anywhere,” Tuso said. “Most of the football now is either happening up north or in suburbs. We’re one of the two locations having games on a regular basis in Kansas City proper. It’s imperative to provide the youth in this area an opportunity to play football, and that’s what Heim Park’s allowed us to do.”
The Missouri Wolverines Youth Organization Inc. is a 501c3 charitable organization. Tuso said 100% of the donations made to the team’s GoFundMe page will be used to specifically help them with field repair and supplies so that the 2021 Missouri Wolverines can finish their season.
Since 2005, Kansas City Athlete Training has offered sports performance athletic preparation training to young athletes across the metro. In 2021, the program began offering a new 12,000 square foot indoor and outdoor turf facility and weight training area, along with several new group training opportunities.