Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe marked his last day as the NYC Parks and Recreation Commissioner with what he called a "poignant" event—renaming the Upper West Side Playground 70 (on West 70th Street) after Matthew Sapolin, the city's Commissioner for People With Disabilities. Sapolin passed away last year at 41 after battling cancer. Benepe said, "Matthew Sapolin was a champion for the disabled community and it is especially appropriate that we name this playground for him as it is the home of a great many accessible play elements that all children can enjoy."
The playground was renovated in 2003 and features accessible bridges on the play equipment, basketball hoops with backstops that can be lowered for players in wheelchairs, and handicap-accessible bathrooms. In spite of losing his sight at age 5, Sapolin was an avid athlete, running marathons and competing as a Division III wrestler while at NYU. Anecdotes about Sapolin included ones about how, as a blind child, he set up a goalie net so he could play hockey and how he learned to ride a bike (and broke his nose many times). Sapolin's son Trevor said his dad was "off-the-wall" with energy and "hyper-active."
Current Disabilities Commissioner Victor Calise said, "This playground will teach kids through interaction that a person should not be judged by their disability but by who they are." Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer recalled that former Mayor David Dinkins once said, "We are all temporarily able-bodied," and celebrated Sapolin's efforts to make the city accessible to all.
Honoring Sapolin has not been without pitfalls: An earlier proposal to name a street after him was nixed after the West 69th Street Association opposed it (while Sapolin lived on West 69th, some felt he wasn't involved with the block's affairs).
In the end, it seems like everything worked out: Calling the "sound of children laughing in a playground" the most beautiful sound, Benepe said it was wonderful that Sapolin's spirit would live on at the playground, "It is a happy place to honor his memory."