New Playground Connects Sandy Tragedies
Out of tragedy comes something good. Two tragedies, both eerily sharing the name Sandy, have resulted in a place that will bring joy to local families for many years. A playground was built last weekend in the Sandy-stricken area of Roxbury, NY in memory of Mary Sherlach, a teacher and school psychologist who lost her life while trying to protect others during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
Residents gathered on the beach in Roxbury on Sunday, December 22nd to show their support for Bill Sherlach and his daughters, Maura Schwartz and Katy Sherlach, who lost their mother in the tragic shooting on December 14, 2012. The playground, which was built in one day, was the 16th of its kind to come from a NJ State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association project called “The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play.”
“This area was hard hit on September 11th. Soon after they had a plane crash. They’ve suffered greatly, most recently with hurricane Sandy. They’re still rebuilding and we’re so happy that the Sherlach family has agreed to lend the spirit of Mary here,” Bill Lavin, founder of the Sandy Ground project announced to the crowd during Sunday’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
The Breezy Point Catholic Club Pipes and Drums band opened the ceremony with “Amazing Grace” as an FDNY fire boat shot off water cannons in the background of the newly built playground. Tears filled the eyes of the Sherlach family as they remembered the wife and mother whose life was taken just a year before.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder addressed the family and the crowd, saying, “Today is a fitting day to take two tragedies and make something great out of it. Tying together two communities that have been through so much. This is a positive sign. We can look and remember the greatness of what others did to try to protect children and lost their life in the process. From this great community, we’ll forever keep your family and loved ones in our thoughts and memory.”
Among other speakers were A.J. Smith of the Breezy Point Cooperative, Activity Coordinator Theresa Flanagan and Roxbury Mayor Alice Mcelroy. Flanagan presented the Sherlach family with roses, which was Mary’s favorite flower. The rose is also the inspiration behind the design of the park. The poles holding up the playground are green to reflect the stems, while the other parts are red to reflect the flowers themselves. Mcelroy told the Sherlach family that there are plans to plant a rose garden around the playground so that the family can come back and visit and see them bloom.
The Sherlach family had never been to the area before, but the park was built in the area because Mary and Bill met in New York at SUNY Cortland and she had a love of water. The playground has a SUNY Cortland football helmet engraved into it. Mary was a football fan, but her team of choice was the Miami Dolphins. During the ceremony, 26 Jet fans were asked to wear Miami Dolphins jerseys and the family was presented with a football signed by quarterback Dan Marino.
Newtown State Trooper Lonny Mo and Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Colleran helped to raise a Newtown, CT flag that was designed after the shooting and is placed at every playground. Every playground from the Sandy Ground project also includes a bell that is engraved with the saying “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” The family was given a replica of the bell and the Flanagan family rang the one in the playground.
Children from a local girl scout troop sang “The Rose” by Bette Midler and a CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) group sang “You’ll Be In My Heart” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” before the Sherlachs were asked to unveil a sign that explains the park’s significance. The family then cut the ribbon to the playground and dozens of local kids rushed in to try out their new play space.
“This is perfect,” Bill Sherlach said. Bill spoke of his wife’s love and passion for children. “For her to be here on the sand, on the water, with a playground where kids are going to be able to enjoy themselves for quite some time to come is just entirely appropriate,” he added.
Bill Lavin and the NJ State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association started the “The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” project as a way to connect two tragedies. With the help of Giordano Contracting, the group is building 26 playgrounds in Sandy-impacted areas in the memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The group also built playgrounds around the gulf after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The entire project costs $3 million. Part of the funding comes from the Super Bowl Host Committee, the NFL and donations. Another playground is planned for Rockaway sometime next year. That playground will be built in the memory of six-yearold Noah Pozner. For more information or to make a donation for these playgrounds, check out www.thesandygroundproject.org.