A street fight is brewing in Mansfield.
At issue is enforcement of an old town bylaw prohibiting ballgames from being played in the street after police broke up a game on Highland Avenue in late July.
The controversy began when police responded to a complaint from a couple living on Highland Avenue around 2:30 p.m. on July 31 about a group of teenagers playing baseball in the street, police Lt. Samuel Thompson said.
“The residents told police the boys kept coming in the yard to retrieve their ball,” Thompson said.
Police broke up the game in accordance with a bylaw forbidding street games using balls. The teenagers, along with multiple neighbors in the area, said police spoke to the boys for about 20 minutes, threatened to arrest them if they didn’t stop their game.
The couple who placed the call asked not to be identified, but said they called the police because the boys would not listen to their requests to respect their property.
“We have backyard pool, and when the boys go into our yard to their ball, it presents a liability for us,” said one of two residents of the Highland Avenue house.
The residents also complained of “line drives” hitting their house and cars many times a day, though they have had no real damage.
The residents asked the neighborhood boys to move their game multiple times, but the boys would not comply.
Instead, “the boys were nasty to me,” said one resident, claiming the teenagers called out names when they were asked to move their game out from in front of the house.
“One day I was so upset, I was in tears. I felt like a prisoner in my own house,” the resident said. “Nobody wants to call the cops on their own neighbors, but I didn’t have any other options.”
“I don’t have a problem with them playing games, I just don’t want it to be in front of my house,” the resident added.
Other neighbors feel differently.
Andrew Horstmann, 16, of 132 Highland Ave., was there when police arrived on July 31.
“About eight or nine kids who live on this street were playing baseball and (the residents who complained) freaked out and called the police on us,” he said.
Horstmann said a group of neighborhood kids, ages 6 to 18, have been playing hockey, baseball, football and basketball in the street a couple times a week for 10 years or so.
“Every once in a while, a ball will go on a neighbor’s roof or in their yard, but we use a pitch back net, so we try to not hit anyone’s house,” he said.
Horstmann said the residents have called police on the boys before — as often as three times in one day — expressing concern about damage to their house.
To appease them, Horstmann said the group moved the game down about 50 feet, but the neighbors still complained.
Linda Odoardi, who has lived at 100 Highland Ave. for 15 years, said she was outraged when her sons, Bryan, 18, and Anthony, 23, told her what happened.
“When my sons told me they could be arrested just for playing baseball, I was extremely upset,” said the mother of two.
“I understand people are worried about damage to their house, but the way they handled it was completely excessive,” Odoardi said of the complaining neighbors.
Terry Longley, of 88 Highland Ave., agreed.
“If my kids did any damage to their house or car, they should have come to me and told me,” she said. “The police should not have been involved.”
Longley said her two sons, ages 10 and 13, are afraid to play in the street after the police incident.
Now, she’s circulating a petition to change the wording of the bylaw.
According to the Mansfield Town Clerk’s Office, the rule was adopted in February 1931 at town meeting, and has not been amended since.
Under “police regulations,” the bylaw reads: “No person shall play any game in which a ball is used ... in any street or public way.”
Thompson said police don’t usually enforce it, and instead ask children to move off the street unless they’re creating a serious road hazard.
But Longley is forging ahead, seeking to have the word “ball” taken out of the language and adding a sentence.
Her revised wording reads, “No person shall play any game on any sidewalk, public way, public place or street, in such a manner so as to endanger the public or obstruct free passage of pedestrians or motor vehicle traffic.”
Longley only needs 10 signatures to put the proposition up for a vote at the next town meeting, and says she has the support of most of the neighbors.
“I’m disappointed this bylaw exists. Playing in the street helps kids stay out of trouble,” said Jim Holmes, of 112 Highland Ave. and the father of 14-year-old Jake.
“In the summer, kids could be inside playing video games, but instead they’re outside getting exercise,” he said.
Another Highland Avenue resident who asked not to be identified, said: “Kids should be outside playing, especially since the older kids help the younger ones.”
A 46-year-old Highland Ave. resident, who only gave his first name, Dave, said: “I played sports in the street when I grew up, so I have no problem with it.”
Sixteen-year-old Horstmann was more to-the-point.
“This bylaw is stupid,” he said.
Longley said the teenagers use a tennis ball, and to her knowledge, there has been no damage to any houses or cars in the Highland Avenue cul-de-sac.