When football coaches yell “dig, dig, dig,” they are usually urging their players to dig deep for a little more effort or to keep their feet moving on a drive block.
But when football Coach Joe Stochmal told his players to dig on Wednesday, it was for Mother Nature.
Stochmal brought 40 of his players to Agnes Tetlak Shiavi Park, commonly known as Aggie Park, on Bower’s Hill Road in Oxford to plant 19 large trees at the entrance to the 97-acre open space parcel that the town recently acquired. The trees were purchased with a $7,600 grant that Oxford received from the Keep America Beautiful program, a national volunteer-based community action and education organization.
The team worked with leaders of Oxford High School’s Youth Conservation Corps, including biology teacher Joe Lanier, and Tom Adamski, a commissioner for Oxford’s Conservation Commission/Inland Wetlands Agency. Coaches also volunteered their time as did Todd Romagna, who drove his backhoe to push and pull trees into holes dug by members of Oxford’s Department of Public Works. donated plywood to stabilize trees, and the will water the trees for a year.
“This truly is a real community project,” Lanier said. “By planting these trees, the kids are leaving a legacy to the town that will last between 100 and 200 years, and the community is jumping in to help.”
The Youth Conservation Corps has between 10 and 20 students who regularly perform community-based environmental work. If students work 50 hours, they can be paid for any work beyond that point, Lanier said.
The football team is not part of the conservation corps, but it likes to help out with community-based programs, Stochmal said. For example, the team gives presents during the holiday season to senior citizens at the Oxford Senior Center and has planted trees at the senior center entrance.
“We want people to come to our games, and so we get involved in our community,” Stochmal said. “Right now we don’t have great facilities, but we want to show the community that we’re willing to do our share and hopefully they can do something for us in the future. …I’ve told our players that they are football players, yes, but they have an opportunity to mean so much more to this community.”
There is a possibility that part of Aggie Park will be used for recreational fields one day. The park is about 97 acres, and roughly two-thirds of it will be untouched. Half of the other roughly 30 acres will be used for active recreation and the other half will be used for passive recreation once the town gets money to seed and grade the fields. Oxford youth sports programs are expected to play on the active recreation fields, which can be used for various athletic events and can include tennis courts, picnic and playground areas, concession stands with indoor toilets and much more, according to the town’s Parks and Recreation website. The passive recreation areas will have hiking and horseback riding trails, as well as picnic areas along nearby Eight Mile Brook, the website states.
“One day, we could have a Pop Warner program playing on these fields, and it will be nice to be a part of creating this,” said OHS junior football player Anthony Paternoster.
“We’re establishing a tradition here,” said J.T. Van Kamerik, another OHS junior football player.
Adamski, the Conservation Commission/Inland Wetlands commissioner, said Oxford’s youth, especially those who work with the conservation corps, have improved the community and helped create more recreational programs for residents. For example, they have spent countless hours at the Rockhouse Hill Sanctuary clearing walking trails. The sanctuary's trails, near Oxford High School, were under utilized for many years until the students began working; now, it’s common to see at least one or two cars parked in the nearby lot, Adamski said.
“People are using it, which is nice for the community,” he said. “...It does my heart good to walk into the woods and see a dozen kids with rakes and shovels.”
When all 19 trees were planted Wednesday, Adamski was about to leave when he saw another sight that does his heart well: a Bluebird sitting in a newly planted tree.