Honoring the guy who made soccer fields possible

Former Islip deputy supervisor Chris Bodkin is recognized

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It’s not every day kids get to meet the hero who enables playing their sport possible. But soccer youngsters, their parents and coaches received that gift on Sunday, as former Islip deputy supervisor Chris Bodkin was recognized for his efforts in saving the Cherry Avenue property for their games.

Bodkin, who lives in West Sayville, was philosophical as he entered the fields.

“It’s hard to believe 30 years have gone by,” he said of the efforts that nailed the fields for kids. “It was a long slide getting it done,” he said.

The former FCC parcel was given to Islip in 1992, and the town entered into an agreement with the Baymen’s Soccer Club, who maintains it. It is home to both the Baymen’s Soccer and Bayport Travel soccer clubs.

Bodkin launched into those pivotal to the successful transition, including former Islip supervisor Frank Jones and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato.

Only locals know that Bodkin grew up on Handsome Avenue with four brothers. (They all snuck out of the house at night on summer evenings; innocent stuff.) His dad, Fran, was a dentist who ran three miles a day in his 70s; his mother, Betty, worked for Stony Brook University Hospital in charge of benefits.

Best friend Tommy Travis commented that he met Bodkin in junior high. “We were scrawny, uncoordinated, unathletic,” he said. “You certainly proved the doubters wrong.”

(Travis did pretty well himself; he’s special assistant to St. Joseph’s College president Dr. Donald Boomgaarden as well as professor of adult education, and has a doctorate.) Classmates Jean Miller, Kathy Madigan and Bill Venegas were among the local friends’ cheering section—about 75 people.

James Bertsch, who planned and ran the event with Travis’s help, kicked off the proceedings introducing Bodkin’s efforts: the yearly Candee Avenue flower plantings and their caring maintenance; the memorials to Pvt. Carl Johnson and Florence Evans, Sayvillites who died in World War II. (Johnson, an Army soldier, was killed on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, on the first day of the war; Evans was a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army Nurses Corps and died in a road accident attributed to a land mine on the last day of the war.)

“He said, ‘You should never forget what they did,’” Bertsch recalled of Bodkin’s devotion to veterans’ recognition. Johnson and Evans were both honored with marker plaques on boulders inscribed with their names and service: Johnson’s on Lakeland Avenue and Evans’s on a small park area in back of Crickets Restaurant. Veterans of Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan are memorialized, too, at Sparrow Park, because of his efforts.

Now Bodkin has one, too.

“I always remember hearing about Chris Bodkin since my Sayville High School graduation in 1988,” Bertsch told the Suffolk County News about why he dove into the event. “Only in the last five years did I realize all three historical markers in town for veterans killed in combat were installed with help from Chris. And he stood up for term limits, protected the Bayport Aerodrome, and helped make Baymen a soccer field.”

As Bertsch and others spoke, soccer youngsters who had completed their games stood quietly in front of the stage area, learning what it takes to be a true public servant.

New York State Sen. Alexis Weik and councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen both mentioned the families they raised, three children each, who were Baymen Soccer kids.

“I grew up with Chris being a primary role model,” revealed Weik.

Councilman James O’Connor also honored Bodkin: “For stewardship, caring and devotion to Islip Town property,” he said. “To Christopher Bodkin, whose initiative and persistence made these playing fields possible.”

Bertsch played a recording from D’Amato aide, Pam Ray, who had been assigned to work with Bodkin for a year and a half during his push. It encompassed a number of trips to Washington, D.C. “Chris, I honor you as a dear friend and a beacon of light,” she said among her comments.

Bodkin recalled driving to the Capitol regularly in his Ford Galaxy, getting a flat tire in Maryland one time and somehow making it home.

“As the bill for the property was about to go onto the floor to be voted on, it was yanked,” he said about the 10 p.m. phone call he received from Ray. “Pam said Al would try to push it,” he recalled.

D’Amato did. “Al called me at 1 a.m. to say the property would be a soccer field,” Bodkin said, adding that the fields included plenty of parking.

The heartwarming recognition ended with soccer kids yelling for Bodkin.

“I want it loud. Give him three cheers, hip, hip, hooray!” yelled Bertsch.

The kids obliged.

Their happy, high-pitched voices carried down Cherry Avenue.

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