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."