LAWRENCE - Bill Quinlan took a lot of hits as a player for legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
Now, at the age of 75, he's taking hits from some of his Mount Vernon neighbors over a park Mayor Michael Sullivan wants to name after him.
"I feel strongly that the naming of this ballpark after Mr. Quinlan would appropriately honor this great Lawrencian," the mayor wrote the City Council several weeks ago recommending that Mount Vernon Park be renamed after him.
Quinlan, a longtime resident of Mount Vernon, was a standout defensive end on two of the Green Bay Packers championship teams in the early 1960s.
But after getting a favorable recommendation from the council's Ordinance Committee, the mayor's proposal is being criticized in the neighborhood where Quinlan has lived for 47 years.
"He played football, so why should we name a baseball field after him," said Frank Incropera, president of the Mount Vernon Neighborhood Association.
"I'm dead against it. My membership is very, very adamant about naming the park anything else, but Mount Vernon. I've gotten responses from over 60 members, and all but one opposes changing it to William Quinlan Park," Incropera said.
Officials of the South Lawrence West Little League are also riled, recently voting unanimously to send a letter to the council urging members to keep the name the same.
"Meaning no disrespect to Mr. Quinlan or to demean his personal accomplishments, I feel that keeping the park's name as 'Mount Vernon Park' keeps the park geographically and historically tied to a very special section of Lawrence," former league President Glenn Bergeron wrote in a recent e-mail to city councilors.
"I realize that in keeping with honoring former Lawrence residents (Robert Frost, Leonard Bernstein, Robert Goulet) that there is great desire to show pride in associating those success stories with Lawrence ... leave things be and allow the City of Lawrence take pride in this new gem which should shed positive light on our city," Bergeron told councilors.
The council is expected to vote on the mayor's proposal to name the park after Quinlan at its next regular meeting, set for 7 p.m. Sept. 5.
Quinlan said he plans to attend the council's next meeting.
"I would enjoy it immensely," Quinlan said. "If they do it, they do it. If they don't, they don't. I'm so sick of these politicians I've seen all my life. My conversation with the mayor was very favorable. So, they can do what they want to."
But his wife, Betty, said it was an honor to which he was looking forward.
"He'd be very honored to have his name on the Mount Vernon Park," she said, noting that her husband is a proud member of the Lawrence High School Class of 1951.
After lettering in football, basketball and baseball at Lawrence High, Quinlan started at Michigan State. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Cleveland Browns, where he played before being picked up in a trade by Lombardi and the Packers. Quinlan started on the 1961 and 1962 NFL title teams. He also played for the Detroit Lions, the Washington Red Skins and the Philadelphia Eagles in a career that spanned close to a decade.
Quinlan is disappointed about the protests from his neighborhood, but has taken a lot of tough knocks in his life, his wife noted.
"His dad died when he was 4. His mother brought up seven children," Betty Quinlan said.
"He's been a cancer survivor for 15 years and has had heart surgery," she said.
Over the years, Quinlan has worked behind the scenes to help young people obtain scholarships or pursue their dreams, she said.
"They could still have Mount Vernon in the name," she said.
"It could be "the William Quinlan Sports Complex at Mount Vernon Park," she suggested.
But representatives of the Mount Vernon Neighborhood Association and the South Lawrence West Little League don't want any change.
Incropera and others suggest that a better way to honor Quinlan would be at the new Lawrence High School.
"He played football and graduated from Lawrence High, so why not name a weight room or phys ed room after him," Incropera suggested.
Sullivan said the matter is up to the council.
"As far as I'm concerned, there hasn't been any real controversy as nobody has called me directly to tell me about any opposition of the naming of the park," the mayor said.
"Personally, I'm proud to say that I live first in Lawrence, and I'm proud to call Mr. Quinlan a neighbor and a friend being a resident of Mount Vernon," he said.
Here are the features of Mount Vernon Park, which underwent a $3 million revitalization:
* Four regulation ball fields, including two Little League fields, a high school girls softball field and a high school baseball field.
* Stadium lighting for each field.
* A new basketball court.
* A new playground.
* A path so residents can walk the perimeter of the park.
* Two new buildings - a small storage shed/press box near the high school ball field and a larger multipurpose building adjacent to the Little League and softball fields. The multipurpose building will feature a concession stand, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, a meeting room and a maintenance garage.
* Parking spaces will be doubled to accommodate 135 cars. This was done to improve traffic safety along Mount Vernon Street when the park is in use.