Tag Archives: Parks Department

Push to inspect trees as family mourns pregnant woman killed in Kissena Park


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The city is inspecting the felled tree that killed a 30-year-old expectant mother in Flushing as her family makes arrangements to mourn her.

“They’re just distraught,” said attorney Anthony Como, who spoke on behalf of the grieving family. “Right now, we’re just trying to investigate to find out what happened, how something like this could occur, and obviously to get some answers at this point.”

Yingyi Li, who was six months pregnant with a baby girl, was sitting on a bench in Kissena Park around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 4 when a fallen tree struck her from behind, police said.

The 50-foot oak tree snapped eight feet above the ground, city officials said.

The Parks Department said it was thoroughly examining the tree’s condition. It was 70 years old, said spokesperson Arthur Pincus.

Expert arborists who are unaffiliated with the department said the oak, which typically can live for 400 years, had signs of ongoing decay and was hollow in the base.

“The wood strength that is needed to keep the tree upright was no longer there,” said Carsten Glaeser, a Flushing-based tree consultant. “If the wood is no longer there, then the tree falls. All it takes is a little force and the tree keels over.”

Li had been married to Aleksandar Dikov, 20, for a little more than a year, their lawyer and neighbors said.

“The two of them were always together, very happy,” said Christina Leib. “She was very loved.”

The pair was living in Flushing with Dikov’s parents, who were too heartbroken to speak to reporters.

“They lost their first and only grandchild,” Como said.

Li owned her own clothing business in Flushing, the attorney said. She met Dikov, a military man, at the Flushing YMCA.

“She was a beautiful girl, so beautiful,” said neighbor Farida Yesmin. “I’m so upset. I can’t even explain.”

Congressmember Grace Meng said she intervened with Customs and Border Protection to allow Li’s father, Zhong Liang Li, to fly in from China.

His American visa was set to expire while he was traveling, Meng said.

Li’s uncle and a family friend were also arranged to enter the country.

At least 13 people have been injured or killed by city trees in the last two months, said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates.

The Parks Department said there were six zone inspections this year in Kissena Park, including one in June. There are more than two million trees on city streets and inside parks.

The department is in the process of contracting an independent tree consultant to review all tree management procedures, a spokesperson said.

Croft and State Senator Tony Avella said the city should suspend its Million Tree Program and use the funds for tree maintenance.

“These tragic accidents can no longer be thought of as ‘acts of God,’” Avella said.

 

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Terrace on the Park lease to be up for bid


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Terrace on the Park operators want to upgrade the facility and are looking to get a new lease on the popular and historic Flushing Meadows-Corona Park catering hall to do so.

Their contract with the city’s Parks Department expires next March, officials said.

The department has issued a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for the 52-11 111th Street site.

“While the current concessionaire has invested more than $8 million in capital improvements, exceeding the requirements of their license agreement, it is clear that additional infrastructure investments are needed,” a Parks spokesperson said.

George Makkos, co-owner of Terrace on the Park, said they have invested $12 million so far to better the catering hall.

But the 100,000-square-foot building needs “millions” of dollars more in capital improvements which cannot be done under the looming lease expiration date, Makkos said.

“Given the size and complexity of the building, the money that we will need to spend will never be recovered in the time, in the lease that we have left,” he said.

Makkos said he and co-owner Jimmy Kaloidis want to retain and upgrade the catering hall.

“We’re trying to extend the lease for a new term so we can spend what’s needed and a lot more to bring the building to a state which is sufficient so it can compete in the wedding and corporate banquet business as it should,” he said.

The city must launch a procedural public bidding process.

“It’s a huge building. Everything becomes a big deal,” Makkos said. “A simple remodeling could cost a million dollars.”

The proposal process is competitive but open to any entities, including the current concessionaire, the Parks Department said.

Terrace on the Park was built for the 1964 World’s Fair and has been a catering hall for nearly 50 years.

The current contract was scheduled to expire in March 2020 but was amended to expire in March 2014, officials said.

A Parks Department spokesperson said the change is not related to any development proposals at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

 

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Woodhaven residents not happy with holiday tree replacement


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Josephine Wendell

A tree grows in Woodhaven — but residents say it’s the wrong one.

They are barking mad that the Parks Department replaced the nearly 30-year-old Woodhaven holiday tree, which was downed by Sandy, with a deciduous “street tree.”

“That tree meant a lot to the residents of Woodhaven,” said Alex Blenkinsopp, communications director for the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA). “We had expected that a suitable replacement would be planted in place of our lost holiday tree.”

The former tree on Forest Parkway near Jamaica Avenue was more than three stories tall and was used for the community’s annual tree lighting ceremony for 27 years.

The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC) bought and planted it when it was only about seven feet tall. Before the tree was planted, residents had used an artificial tree for the lighting ceremony.

The new one is approximately 15 feet tall with a trunk diameter of about four inches, but is expected to grow.
Neighbors believe the new tree will not be a suitable replacement because deciduous trees lose their leaves, meaning they will not be able to decorate it and it will not be distinct from other trees on the block.

The WRBA started a Facebook page dedicated to finding a suitable replacement, called “Restore Woodhaven’s Holiday Tree,” on July 7. Since then, the page has gained more than 200 likes.

Steve and Janet Forte, members of the WRBA, volunteered to donate a nine-foot pine in their yard that they obtained more than a decade ago from the Arbor Day Foundation. The couple wants to give it away because it will eventually outgrow their yard and they want to help keep the tradition rooted in Woodhaven for generations to come.

“It’s a traditional thing and when you go away from tradition you lose a piece of the neighborhood. It’s like losing a part of the family,” Forte said, adding that the tree is “sort of an icon in Woodhaven.”

Parks is aware of the problem with the replacement and will work to fix it, officials said.

“We planned to plant a Christmas tree there with the Parks Department and we planned a ceremony for it,” said Maria Thomson, executive director of the GWDC. “I called them [Parks] and they said, ‘Oh, we made a mistake.’”

A new evergreen tree will be planted in the area during the fall planting season, according to the Parks Department. As for the current tree, it will be transplanted somewhere close by.

“It seems like a brand new young tree,” said Blenkinsopp. “We would love to see it grow, but somewhere else.”

The Woodhaven holiday tree before and after Sandy. 

 

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Northeast Queens residents disappointed by possible pool closure


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Rosa Kim

Oswald Egas spent summers as a boy practicing to swim and escaping the heat at the Fort Totten Pool. He later took his own children to the same outdoor spot, telling them “that’s where I grew up.”

But Egas’ kids may not be able to share the same sentiment with their children.

If the City Council cannot restore $1.5 billion in funding, it will close the Fort Totten Pool and three other outdoor pools in the city.

“Our decision was based on several factors, including attendance figures, proximity to other pools, access to public transit and the location of the pools relative to residential communities,” the Parks Department said in a statement.

The budget issue could also force the department to end the outdoor pool season, which traditionally runs from the end of June to Labor Day, two weeks early this year.

The pool “is a relief to many citizens. I think it’s terrible that they’re possibly not going re-open it,” Egas said.

Other local residents were also disappointed by the news.

“It’s a loss to the area,” said Joe Maron, who prefers the pool to the beach.

“I just think it’s so sad that this pool is at risk because it’s such a great thing for this community. And there are a lot of people who don’t have pools or can’t afford pools, said Cheryl Cummings.

City pools on the chopping block have been saved from a shut down in the past.

“As the only free pool in Northeast Queens, the Fort Totten Pool is a tremendous resource to our community, and as such, the Parks Department should not annually propose its closure as a budget negotiating tactic,” said Assemblymember Edward Braunstein.

“As we have done for the last three years, the New York City Council fully expects to find the funds necessary to ensure that all of New York City’s families are able to enjoy a full season at all of the city’s pools again this year,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

 

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Alley Pond Park Adventure Course now open


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photos by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks

Queens rope climbers and zip liners can find a free adventure without leaving the borough.

The Alley Pond Park Adventure Course, the only course of its kind in the city, reopened for its seventh season on May 1.

The venue boasts a zip line, a climbing wall, a trust fall station, swings and balance platforms. It also has ropes courses that promote team building and problem solving skills through physically and intellectually demanding situations.

“The Alley Pond Park Adventure Course allows park visitors to zip through the tree tops and balance among the branches, all without leaving New York City,” said Parks Commissioner Veronica White. “It is part of a new generation of park designs, where people of all ages can challenge themselves and get fit.”

The ropes course, which features 45 foot cables in some areas, incurred about $17,000 in damages from Sandy-felled trees, a spokesperson for the city’s Parks Department said.

Repairs were paid for by Project Adventure, the course’s construction company, and the adventure course reopened on schedule, the spokesperson added.

The free course is open every Sunday until November with classes at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., depending on the weather. Registration is only required in July and August.

 

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Jackson Heights park to be renamed in tribute to beloved student


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton

Those who knew Rory Staunton say it would be a fitting tribute.

The newly-acquired Parks Department property at the Garden School athletic field in Jackson Heights may soon bear his name. The 12-year-old lost his life last April due to sepsis poisoning after falling while playing basketball in his school’s gym. What doctors believed to be a minor wound later became infected and led to his death.

Rory was a student at the Garden School. Although he lived in Sunnyside with his father Ciaran, mother Orlaith and sister Kathleen, he loved to help out in the Jackson Heights community. He enjoyed working side by side with his dad, a board member of the Garden School. Ciaran Staunton was one of the main individuals who pushed for the field to be used as a park instead of developing it into a 10-story apartment building.

After hearing from the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and other elected officials, Community Board 3 on April 18 voted unanimously to have the field renamed after Rory.

The proposal was inspired by the hard work the boy and his father did to help save the park for future generations.

“We as a group felt it was fitting to name it after Rory,” said Dudley Stewart, president of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance. “The community board vote was a huge relief. It was great to recognize that the community stands behind this proposal. We felt really gratified and very happy.”

Ciaran Staunton said his son helped draw up the plans for the park before he passed away. The father added that Rory was “very green” and always tried to do what was right.

“Our family is very honored,” he said. “It’s a comforting feeling they [children] will be playing in Rory Staunton field for their whole lives.”

Ciaran Staunton recalled an invitation to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day last year. He took his son, who was inspired by the trip to the president’s home.

“He was eyeing the office for himself,” Staunton said.

Since the boy’s passing, the Staunton family has worked hard to raise awareness of sepsis. Governor Andrew Cuomo dubbed legislation to fight sepsis Rory’s Regulations.

Even with all the support they have received for renaming the park, the Stauntons still have to wait for the Parks Department to give official approval.

“It would be fit to honor him in such a way,” said Dromm. “He was only 12 years old [but] had a tremendous impact on the community.”

The Parks Department did not respond to calls as of press time.

 

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Rockaway hockey rink set for repair


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Mike Leahy

A Rockaway roller hockey rink is getting some help from the Parks Department after damage from Sandy nearly put a summer league on ice.

Waves pummeled the boards on the seaside rink near Beach 108th Street, which underwent renovations only a few years ago. The 20-year-old rink was not completely destroyed, but because the boards and other safety walls were gone, it poses a risk to younger players.

“The [asphalt] surface of the rink is okay,” said Rockies Hockey Commissioner Mike Leahy. “But I never would let a kid skate on there.”

Leahy said he’s been working with the Parks Department on getting the rink repaired in time for the summer league, which has players ranging in age from four to adult. But until recently he hadn’t heard much in terms of fixing the rink.

In the next week, however, he’ll meet with a Parks official to discuss how to fix the rink for this summer and improve it for the long run, said both Leahy and a Parks spokesperson.

Damage to the rink was one of several public facility casualties between Beach 87th and 108th Streets, according to the Parks spokesperson. There are no immediate plans to rebuild any of those amenities, the rep said.

Originally, Leahy said, Parks told him he’d have to raise money for repairs himself if he wanted the league to start rolling this summer.

“Up until this point we’ve been in limbo,” he said, adding Parks told him about three weeks ago that “we could make any repairs we could do.”

The league commissioner called Councilmember Eric Ulrich’s office to seek help after the talks seemed to go nowhere. Ulrich, who before the storm had set aside $300,000 to completely refurbish the rink, was able to arrange for Leahy to work directly with Parks officials.

Leahy said he’s happy to start somewhere in discussions, and has high hopes in the meantime that players of all ages will be dropping puck soon.

“I’m going up the ladder,” he said, “and they’re being thoughtful. So far I’m happy. I’m always optimistic until I hear otherwise.”

 

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Kayaking could bring tourism, revenue to Jamaica Bay


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Jamaica Bay has been many things.

It was a fishing haven. It was the site of a deadly plane crash. And it was the catalyst for some of Sandy’s devastation.

But soon, the bay might attract more tourism when the region needs it the most.

Community Board 14 Chair Dolores Orr said the Parks Department had presented the board’s park committee with rough plans for kayak launching bays in Rockaway, along with concession stands throughout areas that are part of Gateway National Park.

Orr said the community desperately needed the project even before Sandy, as it would bring more tourism and revenue to the area.

“We are very much in favor of that in Rockaway,” she said. “We have a very large kayaking community.”

Kayaking has tapped into the water sports subculture in Rockaway. The New York Times last summer featured a story about kayaking trips in the bay. Access, however, has been restricted for many — especially after the storm cause extensive damage and pollution.

Gateway recently re-opened two launchings at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, but a Queens opening could still be way off. Orr said the board had proposed a launching site at Beach 88th Street about a year-and-a-half ago, and that Parks had begun to look into it as a potential site.

“Public access to Jamaica Bay was extremely limited prior to Sandy,” she said. “So after Sandy it’s even more significant.”

 

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Tree complaints top 311 calls


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Fallen limbs and downed branches, among other issues, still top the list of complaints to 311 within Community Board 10. Since the storm struck on October 29 through the end of 2012, there were 1,425 calls to the city about trees. In December alone, nearly 200 calls were put in from residents in the board’s zone about tree problems.

Sandy may have downed many trees in Ozone Park and Howard Beach the night of the storm, but wind-damaged branches could still be a problem, said board chair Elizabeth Braton.

“After a storm, when you have a lot of damage, you have other trees that were damaged but the branches didn’t fall — but they go down sometime later,” she said.

While city agencies still deal with recovery more than two months later, Braton said the board will meet during 2013 about plans for another Sandy-caliber storm. This includes what sorts of trees will be planted that can withstand flooding and winds.

“That will come up as we meet with the Parks Department over the course of the year,” Braton said. “Things are going to be much better as we learn from [Sandy]. But right now we’re still in the immediate mode.”

 

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Patrizia’s of Bayside now only for parties


| mchan@queenscourier.com

DSC_0026w

A Bayside restaurant has stopped serving lunch and dinner and will only offer catering services after less than one year of being open, The Courier has learned.

Patrizia’s of Bayside took over its 201-10 Cross Island Parkway home in June, when popular but upscale Valentino’s on the Green shuttered.

According to a spokesperson for the Parks Department, which owns the site, the family-style Italian eatery is now only open for catered events.

“Their a la carte restaurant is not open at this time,” a spokesperson said. “We are currently discussing their operating schedule going forward.”

Patrizia’s is under a 17-year lease, officials said.

Former Valentino’s proprietor Giorgio Kolaj, who is back to running the facility, said Patrizia’s is “catering to a full house of parties for the month and needs all the space to accommodate the guests.”

Valentino’s closed its doors earlier this year when it could not keep up with the flailing economy, Kolaj told The Courier back in June. He and the Parks Department said they expected Patrizia’s moderately priced menu items to keep business afloat.

Brothers Gennaro and Giacomo Alaio, who took over operations when Patrizia’s opened, did not return calls for comment.

Pol red over lack of Greenstreets


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of the Department of Parks and Recreation

A state senator scolded the city for making changes to a green program that has left some turf in his district deserted.

Unused road areas have been turned into leafy green spaces since 1996, under the city Department of Parks and Recreation’s Greenstreets program, but now only pieces of land in flood-prone areas are being considered by the agency.

State Senator Tony Avella said the “abrupt” modifications to the program’s initiative has led the Parks Department to reject many requests made from northeast Queens residents who had hoped to have blights near their homes beautified.

“Unfortunately, with this new, restrictive criteria that [the Parks Department] has instituted, additional locations will be rejected,” Avella said, adding that he had secured several Greenstreets throughout his district, including ones along Francis Lewis Boulevard. “As a result, these locations continue to deteriorate and become blights in the neighborhood.”

But the program’s priorities now lie beyond surface-level aesthetics, according to the Parks Department, which in 2010 changed Greenstreets’ focus to capturing storm water, reducing the burden on the city’s sewer system. They are only now constructed where they are “absolutely necessary,” a spokesperson said.

More than 870 Queens spaces have been turned to Greenstreets, the Parks rep said, and more will be built after the agency secured additional funding from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

“We would welcome funding from Senator Avella to build additional Greenstreets in other areas,” the spokesperson said.

Idlewild Park set to get $3.5M education center


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Idlewild Park is set to get revamped, adding a new, state-of-the-art 5,000-square-foot nature and education center.

The potential construction area in Idlewild is an “incredible resource,” according to Blake Middleton of the award-winning Handel Architects LLP. Middleton is the head designer for the new, $3.5 million facility, working with both the Eastern Queens Alliance (EQA) and the city Parks Department.

Handel Architects has worked on many well-known projects, such as the 9/11 Memorial and Manhattan’s Downtown Dream Hotel. The idea for a new facility in Idlewild was proposed in September 2010.

In a presentation to Community Board 13 on Monday, September 24, Middleton explained that the new structure was designed in a way that will allow it to work with the wetland environment, as requested by the EQA, including permeable pathways and rain gardens.

For several years, the EQA has been focusing a large part of its work on the “restoration and preservation of wetlands in Idlewild.” Furthermore, it has aimed to establish a salt marsh environmental science learning center.

Handel Architects has designed a structure to accommodate this, housing exhibition spaces, classrooms and administrative spaces.

The center will be naturally ventilated to minimize the amount of energy used. The facade of the building will be covered in a lattice screen of recycled plastic lumber, which is durable, requires no maintenance and is made from 100 percent recycled milk and water jugs.

“The idea is to treat the building as if it is a large filter,” said Middleton.

It is designed to be able to collect and channel rain water into two separate rain gardens at either end of the pavilion. This will filter the water, which will then be absorbed by the area’s native plants.

Designs have been approved by the Parks Department and also by Community Board 13; on Monday, October 1 they were presented to the NYC Public Design Commission.

Construction is scheduled to go to bid in late spring of next year, estimated to be completed in the following 12-14 months.

Once occupancy is permitted, the nature center anticipates community meetings, nature walks, field trips and more. Maintenance is assumed to be provided by grants, donations from benefactors, private investors and occasional fundraising.

Evergreen Park to be redesigned


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

Adjacent to a school and with a kindergarten theme, a Ridgewood park’s redesign aims to combine learning with play.

The Department of Parks & Recreation presented plans to renovate Evergreen Park, next to P.S. 68 on St. Felix Avenue, to parents and residents on Monday, September 24.

“Now, there’s really nothing for small children to do,” said Steve Whitesell, landscape architect for the Parks Department.

The area of the 3.3 acre park that will undergo changes currently consists of bocce ball and shuffleboard courts that residents said were rarely used and desolate.

They will be replaced by a play area designed for 2 through 5 year olds. Whitesell designed the area based on the original German kindergarten — the idea of play as educational experience and learning in a garden, he said. The area will contain a telescope, a “Talking Bob,” which is an interactive game, and a music panel that will allow children to learn as they play.

A water play area will also be relocated and will be installed with water-saving measures. Shrubbery at the park will be partially watered through the retaining of rain and sprinkler runoff ensuring Evergreen will be a green park.

Funding for the playground comes from $1.1 million secured from the City Council by Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley.

The grounds were designed after meetings and input from the community.

This is only the first of several phases to completely revamp the park.

“Glendale and Ridgewood residents will soon see their tax dollars hard at work as the Parks Department transforms Evergreen Park into a beautiful oasis for the community,” said Crowley. “I have stressed the importance of capital investments since being elected, and I’m proud to have worked with Parks to move this project forward.”

Construction will take approximately a year and is planned to begin next summer.

Man’s threat to light self on fire locks down Flushing school


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A 75-year-old Asian man from Bayside is undergoing psychiatric evaluation after he threatened to douse himself with gasoline and light himself on fire in a Flushing park, police said.

The NYPD could not disclose the man’s name because of current medical testing, but said he took over a wooden tool shed in Kissena Park on Colden Street and Geranium Avenue on Tuesday, September 25 at around 12:21 p.m. and made threats to set himself ablaze.

The man had refused to eat for four days in protest, a police source said, although it was not clear what he was demonstrating. He had racked up a laundry list of complaints against him in the past, police said.

A nearby public school, The East-West School of International Studies, had to be locked down, a police source said, while the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team and officers of the 109th Precinct moved in on the scene. The city’s Department of Education did not comment.

The man voluntarily surrendered to authorities and was taken, with no injuries, to Queens General Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, authorities said.

A Parks Department spokesperson said the man is a member of the Korean American Senior Citizens Society (KASCS). Members, the spokesperson said, are allowed to garden for free on “GreenThumb” public, city-owned community parklands like the Kissena Corridor Community Garden, now known as Evergreen Community Garden, in Kissena Park.

Sources on scene said the man’s distress stemmed from issues he had with the Parks land, but that could not be confirmed. The Parks spokesperson said the agency had not removed the man’s gardening privileges.

A league of their own: American Softball is all inclusive


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Terence Cullen

Everybody hits. Everybody runs the bases. Everybody has fun.

This is how Randy Novick from Howard Beach describes American Softball.

Every Saturday throughout the summer, Novick, along with counselors and mentally challenged people from five assisted-living homes met at a field in Kissena Park to get a chance to play softball. Five homes currently comprise the league: Little Flowers, YAI Network, Bernard Feinstein, Lifespire, and Services for the Underserved.

“They’re having the time of their lives,” Novick said. “Whoever comes down, plays. This way everyone’s included.”

On August 25, the last day of this year’s season, Novick, counselors, the participants and their friends from home celebrated before taking the field. While eating pizza and hero sandwiches, they talked with each other and asked if they were coming back next year.

“They love it very much,” said Cecilia Hewitt, a counselor at Little Flowers. “All week, as long as the season is in, they look forward to it.”

The league was started in 1998 as Acheivers of America by a friend of Novick’s who had a son that was mentally challenged and entering his 20s. Because there were no leagues for older people, Novick said, the man started the league. The founder moved to Florida in 2010, however, and the league fell dormant.

For the last two years, Novick said he got a number of calls from counselors asking when or if softball would start up again.

Novick tried this year but requests to the Parks Department were not answered by March. Finally, he went to State Senator Joseph Addabbo asking for help. Addabbo was able to secure Novick a field that was enclosed and adjacent to a bathroom, which Novick and counselors said was the ideal location to play.

Addabbo said it was a pleasure for himself and his staff to help Novick with some of the work load to get the league running.

“It’s not easy to run a league, provide some sort of recreational activity, and work with the Parks Department, so it was our pleasure in providing a recreational activity for them,” he said.

Despite ranging from 15 to 45 players a game, Novick said he expects the league to grow next year — by getting an earlier start organizing it and branching out to more homes. He went on to say he would like to see it grow into a city or statewide organization.

“I want to expand this in all the boroughs and hopefully New York State,” he said. “You have Special Olympics once a year for a week, but other than that there’s no league like this.”