Essex County dedicates Ronald L. Rice Sports Complex in Vailsburg Park

Photo Courtesy of Glen Frieson
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., seated in center, dedicates the Ronald L. Rice Sports Complex in Vailsburg Park in honor of retired state Sen. Ronald L. Rice, seated in center, at left, on Oct. 14. They are joined by many officials from throughout Essex County.

NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. dedicated the Ronald L. Rice Sports Complex in Vailsburg Park in honor of retired state Sen. Ronald L. Rice on Friday, Oct. 14. At the time of his retirement on Aug. 31, Rice had served as the District 28 representative for 35 years. The park is currently undergoing a complete renovation with new football, baseball and softball fields, and a rubberized running track. The complex will be the home field for the Donald M. Payne Sr. School of Technology, as well as continue to be used by local and youth recreation programs and the general public.

“Sen. Rice was a strong and tireless advocate for his constituents, the city of Newark and Essex County. He was a trailblazer and icon who shined the light on inequality and injustice and did not compromise his ideals or principles,” DiVincenzo said. “As county executive, I have named buildings and fields after people who made a positive difference in our community and Ron Rice definitely is one of those people. To name this sports complex that is in the heart of his district (for him) is a fitting and lasting tribute.”

“This is such an honor. I grew up in this city and at one time people like me were not allowed to come to this park,” Rice said. “There are always going to be disagreements, but you have to stick to your ideals.”

Essex County elected officials representing all levels of government spoke of the fitting recognition given to Rice.

“The Payne and Rice families have been intertwined. We will always be together (as) Joe told me that the Payne School athletic teams will use the Ron Rice Sports Complex as their home field,” U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. said.

“Ron broke ground so the next generation could rise up. This empowers me and gives me courage,” Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz said. 

“Ron is truly a great man who dedicated his whole life to helping his country, state and city. This is just a small way we can all say thank you,” state Sen. Renee Burgess said. Burgess, of Irvington, was sworn in last month to fill Rice’s seat and she is running as a Democrat in a Nov. 8 special election for the remainder of Rice’s term. 

“Ron never backed away from a fight. It is important that we understand his legacy and commitment. Naming the sports complex is a fitting tribute that captures his integrity in perpetuity,” New Jersey and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairperson LeRoy Jones said.

“I am proud of everything Ron has done from Newark down to Trenton. This will be a great sports complex named after a great man,” Commissioner President Wayne Richardson said. 

“Ron wasn’t searching for accolades. He did what he did for his constituents and their children,” Newark West Ward Councilman Dupree Kelly said.

“I’m here to pay homage to a great man. When you think about a fighter and a good representative, you stop at Ron Rice,” Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss said.

Rice holds the distinction of being the longest serving black lawmaker in New Jersey history. He previously served 18 years as chairperson of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. Rice has been a strong advocate for social justice issues and supported the construction of recreational facilities in urban areas as a way to lift blighted communities. He backed clean energy for neighborhoods planted atop superfund sites and was a torchbearer for boosting diversity in law enforcement.

Before being elected as a state senator, he was deputy mayor of Newark for four years, a Newark city councilman for 16 years, a Newark police detective for eight years and he served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of sergeant.