SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Sarasota’s football community is rallying together in hopes of seeing a longtime athletic complex revitalized.
For many decades, the football fields along 17th Street just east of Tuttle Avenue have been the go-to spot for youth football. The Ringling Redskins youth football program was established at the site in 1960. Its organization dissolved in 2020.
Ever since then, the structures at the complex have been in the hands of Sarasota County. Former player, coach and president of the youth football program Walter Gilbert said he was frustrated to see the property in poor condition this month.
“I came out and I saw this place falling apart, the place that was near and dear to my heart. So I just needed to ask some questions of the county as to what is going on and what is the problem,” said Gilbert.
Sarasota County officials tell us the structures have been closed for safety reasons.
“Sarasota County and the Ringling Redskins have had a long history of partnership with the most recent agreement being approved in 2017, in which the league owned and maintained all the vertical structures including the concession and locker room building, restroom and office building and announcer towers,” county officials said in a statement. “When the league ceased operations in 2020 and the agreement was terminated, all of the structures reverted back to Sarasota County and a full facility assessment was completed. It was determined those structures had reached end of life and have not been utilized or occupied since.”
One of the fields on the property was named in honor of Gilbert. He was one of the first Black players to participate in the league back in the 1960s. He spoke about the significance of the property and its history.
“When I first started playing, it was in the height of the civil rights era and it actually brought this community closer together during that period of time. We had kids from all walks of life coming to this one spot,” said GIlbert.
He explained the program also produced a lot of talented players.
“We have had over 28 guys that got their football start here that eventually went to the NFL and got drafted to the NFL, not to count the D1 players or D2 players that also played on these fields,” said Gilbert.
He and others in the area hope to see the property restored with a focus on protecting its history and serving the youth in the community.
Sarasota County has included the park along 17th Street in a master plan that aims to redevelop a number of north county parks within a three to seven year period.