East Palo Altans build field for fallen officer

Rich May Community Field will support sports and development for East Palo Alto kids

More than seven years after East Palo Alto police officer Rich May was fatally shot while on duty, members of the Rich May Foundation, which includes his family, broke ground on the Rich May Community Field Sunday, following years of political wrangling and fundraising.

The field will be located behind the St. Francis of Assisi church on Bay Road, and May's sister, Tami McMillan, said the foundation aims to support already-existing East Palo Alto sports programs for the three sports most played by minorities in the area -- soccer, rugby and football.

"We decided that we wanted to help the programs that already exist rather than recreate the wheel," she said. "East Palo Alto already has good programs, especially sports. What we wanted to do is give them a home-field advantage."

The idea for the field came out of an unexpected friendship between May's family and Father Larry Goode of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church. The night May was killed, Goode decided on his own to perform last rites on him. After finding out that May wasn't Catholic, he called May's father, Frank Merrill, to ensure it was alright that he had performed the rites.

"I told him that the fact that he had done it on his own out of love in respect was wonderful," said Merrill, a veterinarian in Burlingame who grew up in the area.

Goode had been wanting to get a field built on the unused area for 15 years, Merrill said. The idea to build a field in May's memory started to come around about a month after May's murder.

"We began the thought process in February after something I said at Rich's wake that I still agree with: This should never happen again. We can never have a kid from East Palo Alto who has no access to recreation and education facilities create another (person like my son's murderer)," he said.

May's killer, Alberto Alvarez, was convicted of first-degree murder and given the death penalty in 2010.

Merrill said he believes in the ability of sports to help kids develop into adults and he hopes the new field will do just that.

"There's always been an inequality in facilities, and it prevented some of the kids the opportunity to flourish as athletes and by extension to flourish as young adults -- to grow up and be able to get things done," he said.

The field will mainly occupy land owned by the Catholic church, but a small portion of it belonged to the Ravenswood City School District's Green Oaks Academy. McMillan said that the road to getting permission and permits from the church, the school district and the city has been long, especially since some neighbors opposed its construction.

The foundation has raised around $800,000 for the field construction, with about $250,000 coming from a grant from the U.S. Soccer Federation. Still, it's less than a third of what Merrill is hoping for to finish both phases of the construction -- the second of which includes lighting the fields, which Merrill sees as pivotal during the winter months.

The foundation also wants to raise enough money for an endowment to make the field sustainable over a long period of time, Merrill said.

"I don't want to dwell on the negative or the event that occurred that is a crushing blow to the whole family that we're never going to get over," he said. "If I can wake up and know I helped someone -- even just one kid -- and that it was in Rich's name, that's fine with me."


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

How interesting and sad that this is the first comment made on this terrific news, while the shooting article already has a number of comments. This is another example of how people, espec nonresidents, prefer to see and comment on the negative and rarely on the good stuff that happens in E. Palo Alto.

Thank you to those in the photo, and everyone else who worked so hard for so long to make this happen.

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I remember that day, as my son was an Explorer junior policeman for the City of Menlo Park and was assigned to direct traffic around the crime scene. It was a personal reminder of how courageous these men and women of the police force are and how they handle every day they're on the job. To the May family and all who have been inspirational in creating this playing field I would just like to say thank you for choosing to help the community instead of condemn it.

Like this comment
Posted by speaktruth
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2013 at 10:27 am

Right on... finally good news!! Not to mention positive news about EPA. Sadly an officer had to be fatally shot for the church after 15 yrs to finally be able to build a recreational field for our community to enjoy.

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