FORT LAUDERDALE — Youth can now participate in sporting events at the Orange Bowl Field at Carter Park, thanks to a partnership between the city and the Orange Bowl Committee. The football stadium and field boasting synthetic turf, a state-of-the-art eight-lane track, a new scoreboard and spectator area officially opened with a scrimmage game on Saturday following a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The 21.6-acre Joseph C. Carter Park, 1450 W. Sunrise Blvd., was selected for renovation because of the area’s demographics, Mayor Jack Seiler said.
“We wanted to give back to the community that needed it the most,” Seiler said in an interview. “We are trying to serve those that are underprivileged, those that don’t have equal opportunities to be on the ball field, the track, and participate in some of the sports.”
The project broke ground last July, with Fort Lauderdale and the Orange Bowl Committee splitting the cost, Seiler said. Because the stadium was completed under budget, each will pay “$1.4 million and change,” he said.
The field will attract collegiate events, especially track and field, according to Frank Gonzalez, the Orange Bowl Committee’s Legacy Gift chairman. “We also partner with the youth football leagues and that’s something we want to continue.” State Sen. Christopher “Chris” L. Smith of Fort Lauderdale described the park as “the entryway to our city” and welcomed the upgrade of what he said was “a major part of history in the African-American community.”
“Many of us grew up at Sunland Park — now Carter Park. I am glad to see the constant reinvestment,” he said The park was renamed for Joseph C. Carter, whom the community called “Mr. Athletic,” and is a place where generations of black youth have gathered to participate in sports.
Carter came to Fort Lauderdale at a time when the city was still segregated, his daughter Leslie Carter, 52, said. “I remember him talking about how we could not go to certain beaches or parks. So when professional tennis players, for example, came to Fort Lauderdale, he would say, ‘OK, if we can’t go to them, I will bring them here to Sunland Park.’”
Carter made sure that all children had all the same opportunities and experiences, Leslie Carter, of Lauderdale Lakes, said. “He felt that they should not be penalized for where they were born. So (at Carter Park) you can learn to play tennis, swim, play ball; you learned how to compete here.”
Carter was known to hire teachers and coaches to work with the youth, Leslie Carter added. And he often hired teenagers. “But you couldn’t just come looking for a job. You had to bring something. It was just that important to him. This was a live training ground,” she said.
Leslie Carter described her father as a man who “did his job because he truly understood community. He always said that people should not have to pay to have their children taken care of. There are people who can’t pay to have their children taken care of but they should still have those same opportunities.”
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net