However it happens, DHS needs new stadium

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2005

I suppose the contrast could have been starker, but I don’t know how.

On Sept. 6 I traveled to Camden for the Demopolis Middle School football team’s game against Camden Middle. The game was held at Wilcox Central’s cavernous, state-of-the-art facility outside of town: Impeccable field. Acres of seating for fans on both sides. A track circling the field. A press box the size of a Mountain Brook mansion.

So what must DMS’s players thought about their home field when Camden visited Demopolis for the return game Oct. 4? If you haven’t heard, the lighting on Memorial Stadium’s west side failed, never turning on and leaving half the field in darkness the moment the sun went down. The game was cancelled at halftime.

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So in Camden, DMS gets to play in one of the best facilities in the state. At home, the facilities won’t even let them finish their game. I think you could easily forgive the DMS players for thinking: This isn’t fair. Why are things like this?

Despite having written two articles on the subject (one in February on the stadium project funding efforts, one for yesterday’s paper that focused more closely on the stadium’s problems) there remain some things I know about the stadium situation and some I don’t. That DMS player’s “Why” is one I don’t. I could guess at reasons for the stadium situation–that Demopolis has had better things to spend money on (like the new school), that the effort of the coaching staffs to deal with the stadium’s issues has kept things above “crisis” point, the general slow march of progress in the Black Belt–and those would be good reasons. But I couldn’t pinpoint one and say, “That’s it.”

What I do know is that Demopolis High really does need a new football stadium. It’s not just the lights, which promise to continue being a headache. It’s the terrible restrooms. The shoebox-sized locker rooms. The leaky roofs. The boxes upon boxes of field paint and athletic tape stacked by the wall or on cabinet shelves because there’s no storage space. The complete lack of wheelchair access. The fact that with space at such a premium in the locker room (the ice machine and laundry hampers take up the shower area), there’s no place for the players to shower. No showers! But maybe we shouldn’t worry about that. I mean, showers have only been a standard locker room feature since, what, the Great Depression?

Another thing I don’t know, however, is how to pay for that new stadium. (A stadium that, by February estimates, could cost as much as $2.5 million.) I know Mark Pettus at Demopolis Parks and Rec is exploring options like sponsorships and private donations. I know the Demopolis school board has looked at ways they can help. And I know there’s plenty of talk of the City of Demopolis pitching in a substantial portion of the cost as well.

But definitively saying which of these avenues stadium funding should come (or whether it should come from all three) isn’t something I can comfortably do. If I owned the company I work for, I’d be pretty happy to help build Jerry Hinnen Field at Boone Newspapers Stadium. But I can’t and when we’re talking about a donation of this size, I can’t say for certain anyone else should. The city shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the stadium and the team that plays there; nothing on the entire calendar unites a community over time like the football season, especially when the team’s as big a winner as DHS has been. But it’s also true that the city’s plate is already close to full with the new municipal building that’s also needed very, very badly–ask any policeman you like, or visit the abandoned showroom masquerading as a firehouse downtown.

None of the difficulties in building the new stadium, however, changes the fact that one has to be built. It’s true that DHS is hardly alone in the Black Belt in needing a facilities upgrade. But when Newbern’s high school has press box twice Memorial’s size, when the restrooms and concessions over at Livingston are twice as nice, this is one area where Demopolis is hardly living up to its role as the leading community in the region.

For the players, for the coaches, for the fans and for the image of the city, Demopolis, as a community, has to find a way to get this done.