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Opinion: Flagging HS Facilities Are Community's Fault

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Copyright 2017 The Post and Courier
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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)

 

The football stadium Wando High School calls home isn't within walking distance of campus. Its utter lack of 20th century perks this deep into the 21st starts with rear ends: the Roman Colosseum, built in the first century AD, has more comfortable seating than the oversized rows of crudely designed cement layers on Mathis Ferry Road.

Bad bleachers would be a huge upgrade.

And that's the relatively affluent Mount Pleasant edge of Charleston County, where subdivision developments, restaurants and shopping are trendier than anywhere else in the state. What does that say about the football facilities elsewhere in the Charleston County School District?

Or the voters within?

The Burke Bulldogs have been nomadic since 2015 when heavy rains rendered the playing surface unplayable at 62-year-old Stoney Field.

Meanwhile, the Columbia area is awash in new high school football facilities with more on the way. Spiffy synthetic turf fields limit Midlands weather problems at River Bluff (complete with indoor hospitality boxes), Irmo, Brookland-Cayce, Lower Richland and Chapin.

Next year Keenan, Memorial and Bolden stadiums will add fake grass. Lexington's fancy facility opened in 2015.

The last new football stadium to open in Charleston County was at West Ashley High School. In 2000.

Apparently, synthetic turf won't grow in the Lowcountry.

This neglect goes well beyond football. It should be embarrassing to all of us that Charleston County is so far behind in such a critical aspect of education, community and culture. But it's not just unimaginative school board members and short-sighted superintendents at fault here. It's up to all of us - those with working phones, those who vote - to take up for kids and parts of town that would surely benefit from nicer places to play, hang out, socialize and come together.

One high school football season is the wink of a cheerleader's eye, but the bonding experience of a single Friday night transcends blocking and tackling. It's more fun when we're not in a crummy, crumbly place - a place to call our own - wouldn't you agree?

Crowded North Charleston

Texas has state-of-the-art high school football fields that cost $62 million, seat 12,000 people and have scoreboards the size of Vermont.

We have eyesores out-of-step with most of the rest of our state.

Somewhere in between is Fort Dorchester High School's Bagwell Stadium in Dorchester County District 2, a 7,000-seat facility that opened in 1997. It has 700 theater-style seats, plus tweaks that include press boxes on both sides of the field. A $311,717 scoreboard that offers one of the largest video screens (25 feet by 14 feet) at any high school in the state eventually will be mostly paid for by Fort Dorchester boosters.

High school facility funding here and elsewhere is a complex process involving various revenue streams, capital projects, tax hikes, ruling bodies and bonds.

That doesn't mean Charleston can't do at least as well as other counties.

County voters approved plans for a new $14.2 million, 6,000-seat North Charleston football stadium in 2014. Unfortunately, the facility is to be shared by North Charleston and Stall high schools (which currently have their own stadiums) plus Military Magnet and Academic Magnet. With football, soccer and booming interest in lacrosse, that's too much pressure on one facility.

Messy Mount Pleasant

It's as messy in Mount Pleasant.

Wando High School will get a new stadium promised in the 2014 referendum. But a school that we never should have let grow to over 4,000 students - largest enrollment in the state - must share the new place with Lucy Beckham High School, scheduled to open in 2020. By which time Mount Pleasant will need at least three high schools.

Multi-schools.

Multi-sports.

No foresight.

If this gets ridiculous enough, East Cooper residents might re-start 1990s talk of seceding from the Charleston County School District. Try funding future CCSD facilities without Mount Pleasant money.

Of course, there is a flip side to all this: We are different here in the Lowcountry. And we have mere football and its supposed impact on communities in perspective within an education model the rest of the state envies.

But as the late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes once said, "Football is not overemphasized, everything else is just underemphasized."

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

Wando High School fans cheer during a 2016 game at the current football stadium, which is slated for demolition.
 

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August 25, 2017
 
 
 

 

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