Aug 13, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A warm morning in mid-August, and across Central New York the rituals start up again.
Put on your helmets. Line up. Stretch out. Run from one end of the field to the other. Learn to block, tackle, throw, catch and kick. Then put on the pads at the end of the first week and start hitting each other – cleanly, we hope.
Three weeks and one scrimmage later, it’s time to play for real. On the night of Aug. 31, dozens of games will kick off, community events in front of hopeful crowds looking for hometown heroes to celebrate and congratulate.
As this goes on, the season also opens at Allen High School, in suburban Dallas, where the local team, the Eagles, meets Southlake Carroll, the reigning state champions. They do so in a new stadium.
Eagle Stadium cost $59.6 million to build. It seats 18,000.
Drink that in for a few moments, especially if you’re one of those types that complain and moan every single time your school taxes go up, even if it’s a penny or two. And ponder that every single time you say there’s too much emphasis on high school sports.
Now let’s bring it into the proper context (if that seems possible). Allen is a very, very large high school, even by the large standards of Texas, with nearly 5,400 students in grades 9-12.
Eagle Stadium, gaudy as it is, was part of a larger capital project costing $119.4 million. It was overwhelmingly approved by district voters and included a brand-new auditorium and transportation center, among other needs. Even the stadium has facilities other sports teams will use to their benefit.
So what was the old stadium like? Opened in 1976, it sat ‘only’ 7,200. They needed 7,000 temporary seats to meet demand over the ensuing decades. Visiting teams dressed in a gym, and with minimal on-site parking, most of the fans had to arrive through shuttle buses.
In short, yeah, they needed a new place to keep up with the mega-schools and mega-stadiums around them. To show you how much demand there is, Allen has sold 8,000 season tickets.
Modern amenities are everywhere, from an HD scoreboard (75 feet by 45 feet), state-of-the-art weight room, luxury suites, nice press box, but even here Allen didn’t go too far. Fans, when polled, preferred to have bleacher seats over more expensive chairbacks, and the school didn’t sell naming rights, either.
It’s just plain Eagle Stadium, about the only plain thing about the palace.
Is it too much? A rhetorical question, and an easy one, for of course it’s way too much importance put on football, and to think there are larger stadiums (four of them) in Texas. Plenty of people, even in that state, are aghast at the numbers spent for football.
Try, though, to compare that situation to what we’ve got around here. After a large flurry of building projects, there’s less of a desire to do anything extra for athletic departments, because it may involve money, and budgets are getting tighter and tighter, and heaven forbid we should do anything for students when the taxpayers must be protected.
Psychologically, that has a huge effect. Maybe it doesn’t happen right away, but once kids grow up and mature, and especially by the time they reach their teen years, they can often find themselves as pawns in a political game played by adults over who should get the money, if any.
The Fayetteville-Manlius saga proved instructive. After multiple attempts to get an all-weather turf field were turned down by district voters, they had to resort to private fund-raising to get it done. Few districts, though, have the relative wealth needed to pull this ofr.
Or look at Baldwinsville, which has tried for a long time to get a similar turf field into Pelcher-Arcaro Stadium. The memory of that 2010 game with CBA, the “Mud Bowl”, is quite vivid, yet a school ranked among the top five in Class AA in the state in on-field performance cannot get a facility worthy of their efforts.
The critics of such ventures would have a point if athletes at high school were across-the-board poor students. But they’re not, of course, so the argument that it’s a waste of money to have first-rate facilities becomes more specious.
If nothing else, schools in this state fare much better, when put on a national scale, than Texas, which is near the bottom for myriad reasons. Maybe, just maybe, one of them has to do with their priorities, skewed greater in the direction of the football field than to the classroom in a way that could ever be replicated in these parts.
At least they’ve got $60 million to spend on a stadium, though.