Stadium upgrade needed

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

There was electricity in the air at Demopolis High’s Memorial Stadium the night of Tuesday, Oct. 4. The Demopolis Middle School football team was going to square off against visiting Camden and the cheerleaders were cheering, plenty of parents and fans and classmates were clapping in the stands, and the players roared onto the field ready for action.

Too bad none of that electricity reached the lighting towers on the stadium’s west side. Thanks to a decades-old underground cable that had suffered water damage after having its protective covering worn away, the towers failed to come on and half of the field was left in darkness. At halftime the game was cancelled, and the Tigers slumped off the field with their final home game of the season suddenly cut in half and unfinished.

While the incident was unfortunate, it was hardly a surprise to those close to the deteriorating situation at Memorial Stadium. The wiring in a tower on the east side had caused a lighting failure in a pre-season test and had to be repaired. Demopolis head coach Doug Goodwin says it’s not the last time the lighting at the 60-plus-year old facility will have to be addressed.

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“We’re just going to continue to have problems. At least that can be fixed. The other problems,” he says, “can’t really be fixed.”

Those “other problems” are a laundry list of issues at Memorial Stadium relating from player security to seating availability to Demopolis’s public image that have Goodwin and others believing the time has come for the Tigers’ championship-winning football team to have a new home.

“The reasons we need one are immeasurable,” Goodwin says. “I’ve never politicked for a new stadium, but if someone asks me what’s wrong with it, I’ll tell them. I know there’s people are going to say ‘Oh, he’s the football coach, he just wants a new stadium because he’s always going to want something better.’ That’s not really he case. But it does get old dealing with the same old crap year after year and nothing being done about it.”

Among the daily headaches Goodwin, his staff, and his players have to deal with are:

*Not enough locker room space. Demopolis dresses 70 players this season but has a locker room only designed for 55, forcing the other 15 to dress in the weight room.

“It’s not fair to ask 15 players to dress in another locker room,” Goodwin says, “any fairer than it would be for the team to ask them to ride in a different bus.”

The cramped conditions also cause the temperature to rise dramatically at halftime, when the entire team convenes in the one locker room. Goodwin says that, in a way, the heat gives his team a kind of home-field disadvantage.

“During halftime, it’s so hot,” says Tigers senior guard Zach Landerfelt. “It’s not air conditioned or anything.”

*The locker room only includes one toilet and one urinal for all of Demopolis’s players, coaches, trainers, and the officiating crew to use at halftime.

*No available showers for the players. Because state regulations demand that officials have access to a shower after a game, officials must be escorted to the visitors’ locker room where they shower with the visiting team.

*There are no coach’s offices, separate meeting areas, or storage areas for team supplies. Staff meetings are held in the weight room.

*There is no area for officials to dress in. Officials dress alongside the DHS team.

*The distance between the school and the stadium means practice begins further into the afternoon and finishes further into the evening, with obvious repercussions, Goodwin points out, for the students’ academics.

“We start an hour after everyone else. By the time we get over there, get dressed, get taped up, and get started, it’s almost 4,” he says. “The kids get home later. The coaches get home later.”

*The players’ lockers are open lockers, meaning that with the constant stream of people in and out of the facility security is a major concern.

“Inevitably articles come up missing,” Goodwin says. “There’s no way to police it.”

“There’s not much security,” says junior guard and placekicker Justin Davis. “You sure can’t bring any money in. It’s good as gone.”

*Even when the locker room is closed and locked, security is a problem.

“We’ve been broken into four times since June,” Goodwin says. “It’s just not a very secure area. It’s too easily accessible.”

*Despite the re-roofing of the locker room after an incident in which Goodwin found himself pumping “two inches of standing water” out of the locker room on Thanksgiving Day before a state semifinal match-up, moisture and accompanying mold growth is still a problem.

“It’s always leaked. It still leaks every time it rains,” Goodwin says.

But for all of the problems Memorial Stadium causes the football team, Goodwin says there’s almost as many for the DHS football fans. The stadium’s seating has no handicapped access. Seating for the visiting team is insufficient. Restroom facilities are sorely, sorely lacking.

“The bathrooms are horrendous,” Goodwin says.

So what’s the answer? Constructing a new facility at a site just alongside Demopolis High School, Goodwin says, but he’s not the only person involved in the situation who thinks so. Demopolis City Schools superintendent Dr. Wesley Hill agrees that the convenience of relocating (with perks like readily available parking and a steep drop in maintenance costs) means that, in the long run, a new stadium will be far less expensive than trying to bring the current facility up-to-date.

“It’s a lot more expensive to refurbish than some people realize,” he says, “if you look at this project long-term.”

Goodwin says he has heard from proponents of keeping the Tigers’ home at the current location–citing the central location and tradition at current the site–but that the move makes too much sense not to pursue.

“Those are all well and good,” he says, “but they don’t outweigh the reasons the football stadium should be at the school.”

Given the plethora of reasons behind giving Goodwin and Hill the facility they want, the far and away biggest reason bulldozers aren’t at work right now is, of course, money. Mark Pettus of the Demopolis Parks and Recreation Board serves as head of a committee looking into securing the funding necessary for the stadium project and says that with an artists’ rendering of the new stadium on its way, and a sizable contribution from the Demopolis school board likely, funding may be able to be secured soon–if the right corporate donor is found.

“No one’s willing to risk anybody’s education. What we’re really looking for is someone to kick the ball off,” he says. “It’ll make a difference in these kids’ lives for a lifetime. We need it…. We say that Demopolis is a ‘progressive community.’ But if you’re not willing to invest in yourselves, you can’t call yourself a progressive community.”

Hill says that while the Board’s support isn’t definite yet, the Board has examined the potential for getting behind the stadium financially and it is indeed a definite possibility.

“We can leverage some funds to make a contribution,” he says, through a government program. “We’re not going to do anything that would take away from our academic program. The goal [of a new stadium] is attainable. But a lot of needs have to be taken care of.”

Another possible avenue of funding, according to Pettus, would be through the City of Demopolis.

“It’s not unreasonable,” he says, “to ask for help both from private citizens and the city government.”

It’s an avenue Goodwin says–despite knowing he’ll ruffle feathers with his opinion–that deserves to be explored.

“It seems to me that this is a city school system. Everybody involved pays city taxes,” he says. “The City of Demopolis has been very lackadaisical, for lack of a better word, about getting something done.”

For her part, Demopolis mayor Cecil Williamson says the City Council would be glad to hear suggestions for how the city could help with the project. But they haven’t heard any yet, and that until they do the Council’s support has to remain yet-to-be-determined.

“No one has approached us with a plan or how it’s going to be funded,” she says. “We’re looking for a plan. I would definitely say the Council would listen to a legitimate proposal. But we’re strapped for money like everyone else. We’re working on a needs basis. But we would not be opposed to a legitimate proposal.”

However the funding arrives, by donation, by city, or pennies from heaven, it can’t come soon enough for the Demopolis players and coaches.

“The most embarrassing thing is when other coaches say, ‘Why are your facilities so bad? Why don’t they do something?'” Goodwin says. “We’ll get comments saying ‘Y’all do a great job for what you’ve got.’ They mean it as a compliment, but it’s still a backhanded compliment…it’s just embarrassing.”

Landerfelt might not be embarrassed by Memorial Stadium, but he’s familiar enough with other facilities to know things could–and maybe should–be different.

“You learn to deal with it,” he says. “But for such a good program, it seems like we should have better.”