Two beloved Oneonta landmarks were damaged Saturday night in an arson and graffiti incident, according to the Oneonta Police Department.
Oneonta police said the third base dugout at the Doc Knapp Field, commonly known as the Oneonta Little League Field, was set on fire, and the neighboring Swart-Wilcox House was vandalized with graffiti.
Oneonta Lt. Douglas Brenner said the police department received a report of a fire at the field at approximately 7:20 Saturday night. Brenner said police found the third base dugout engulfed in flames. He said the Oneonta Fire department arrived soon after and put out the fire, but the dugout was badly damaged.
After further inspection, Brenner said, police discovered obscene graffiti painted on surrounding structures, including the Swart-Wilcox House, Riverside Elementary School and a private vehicle in the area.
Brenner expressed disgust with the incident.
“When it affects something as positive and community-based as little league,” Brenner said, “it’s enough to make you really angry and we get impatient. We will do whatever it takes to catch whoever did it.”
Billy Erario, president of Oneonta Little League, called the incident “disheartening,” but seemed hopeful for the coming season which, he said, starts April 26. Erario said the dugout was burned beyond repair and would be taken down “within the the next week or so.”
“The outpouring of support from the community is heart-warming,” Erario said. “We are very appreciative. Right now we are contacting our insurance company, but when it comes time to clean up, we will let everyone know.”
Erario said more than 200 children participate in Little League every season which, he said, runs until October, if the weather permits. He said more than 35 coaches are involved in the league.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson said “it hurts” to see the Swart-Wilcox House, Oneonta’s oldest structure, vandalized.
“I feel bad for the people who worked so hard at making it a historical site,” Simonson said.
The Swart-Wilcox House was preserved and restored by four teachers in 1988, according to Simonson. He said Deborah Clough, Tina Morris, Dan Minitte and Helen Rees all worked together to see that the important building would be around for future generations to enjoy.
Every summer, the Swart-Wilcox House holds its Summer Sundays Series, a free historical program which takes place in July and August. Each Sunday, tours of the house, demonstrations, memories and lessons are shared with the public, free of charge.
Superintendent of Oneonta City Schools Joseph Yelich said the vandalism of the Riverside Elementary School was minimal, and was painted over yesterday by the school grounds crew. He said things will be back to normal for student’s return to school on Tuesday.
Simonson said he hopes the Swart-Wilcox House can be repaired quickly and easily.
“They’ve damaged some important landmarks,” Simonson said. “It’s hard to believe that someone would stoop so low.”
As for the Little League field, Erario said he hopes the arsonist is caught, but plans to rebuild the third base dugout as soon as possible either way.
“We want to send a message to whoever did this. We want to say, ‘hey, you’re not going to stop us,’” Erario said.
WDOS radio personality and Daily Star columnist “Big Chuck” D’Imperio posted the following message on CNYnews.com regarding the damage to the field and dugout:
“Stay tuned to your local radio stations as we will be coordinating some fundraising to benefit this venerable old place that has meant so much to so many of our local young people.”
The Oneonta Police Department asks that anyone who has any information regarding the incident contact them at 432-1111.