Tension high over Linden field situation

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2011

LINDEN — The rift that separates Linden High School football from its longtime rental home at Linden Athletic Field still remains after a Monday meeting of the city board of education.

The situation with Linden Athletic Field and the LHS Patriots’ use of it took center stage during the meeting as a delegation of the Linden City Council was present in an effort to help resolve the issue.

“This is a continuation of that mediation,” Mayor Mitzi Gates said early in the proceedings, making reference to a Wednesday, Aug. 24 meeting that saw Linden Athletic Association (LAA) President Hale Smith, Linden High School Principal Tim Thurman, Linden City Schools Superintendent Dr. Tyrone Smith, city attorney Woody Dinning and city administrator Chery Hall attempt to reach a workable solution for all parties involved. “We thought we had come to an agreement. We have since learned that the agreement may not be as amicable as we once thought.”

Email newsletter signup

The divide between Linden football and Linden Athletic Field manifested itself in a dispute over the rising cost of using the facility. In previous years, both Linden High School and Marengo Academy have paid $500 per game to use the field. According to Hale Smith, who was appointed the LAA president just three weeks ago, that arrangement has not been effective in covering the total expense of maintaining the field.

Smith said middle school games and youth league games have long taken place on the field with no cost to the entities playing in the contests, and those expenses have traditionally been offset by outside benefactors. Central to the issue of the inflated cost for 2011, according to Smith, is the subsidization of costs provided by those donors is no longer available.

“Those entities were Marengo (Academy) parents,” he said. “(Linden High supporters) are so mad and (Marengo Academy parents) have been doing more than they even know.”

Linden High opened its regular season at Central High School in Tuscaloosa Thursday, Aug. 25. The game, originally slated as a Linden home contest, was moved late in the week after the school officials could not reach an agreement with the Linden Athletic Association. Linden High received official word from the Marengo County Board of Education that same evening it would be permitted to play its home games at Marengo High School in Dixon’s Mills if need be.

The removal of Patriot home games from Linden was key in drawing involvement from the Linden City Council.

“The businesses in Linden have expressed a real concern about losing six or seven games a year,” Dinning, who was appointed to act as mediator in last week’s meeting, said.

Monday’s meeting saw some 60 people in attendance, the majority of that contingent comprised of dissatisfied Linden High parents and supporters.

“Every school should own its own facility,” Linden resident Bobby Jackson said. “We’ve been in this situation for 30 years and we believe we should own our own facility.”

His comment, which was directed at the Linden City Board of Education, drew a round of applause from a number of onlookers. His matter-of-fact approach was among the less emotional remarks made throughout the near 45-minute discourse.

“Going out there (to Linden Athletic Field), you’ve got MA signs all over. There are cattle gates out there. This ain’t MA,” Linden resident William Bryant exclaimed. “We can’t use the concession stand. They don’t want us out there and we don’t want to be out there.”

“I appreciate everybody in here’s concern about the football field,” Hale Smith told the crowd in attendance at the meeting. “Those kids don’t need to leave town to go play. They need to win a state championship and they need to do it right here.”

Smith’s imploring did little to ease the tension in the room as Linden supporters continued to point out the signage and sights which they feel make Linden Athletic Field home to the Longhorns of Marengo Academy rather than the Patriots of Linden High.

“The first person that asks if they can put up a ‘Linden Athletic Field: Home of the Patriots’ sign, I’m going to tell them, ‘Absolutely,'” Smith retorted.

The comments from Linden supporters seemed to exacerbate an already delicate situation which, ostensibly, seemed to begin over issues relating to cost and a lack of bleachers on the visitors’ side of the field.

“We as blacks need to stand together, hold hands and have our own field,” one agitated Linden supporter offered near the end of the discussion. Her statement drew applause from a few members of the crowd, a group that filled the room and extended out the door of the board room in the LCBOE building.

Her remarks pointed toward possible deeper issues within the city and signified the feeling of many Patriot supporters that the only suitable long-term solution is the acquisition of a Linden High field. Still, the commentary did little to address the short-term issues, which Dinning pointed out had worked their way toward what the city council believed were satisfactory solutions in recent talks.

The obstacle with the visiting bleachers has since been resolved as the LAA has reached an agreement with the city to transport bleachers from nearby Scott Park to Linden Athletic Field. The hurdle of increased cost seemed a manageable one after Dinning pointed out the city’s willingness to assist Linden High in paying the fees.

“Dr. Smith and Mr. Thurman were very explanatory that coming up with extra funds in these hard times would be especially difficult to do,” Dinning said before pointing out the city’s desire to pay the difference between this year’s field costs and those of previous years on behalf of Linden High. “Hopefully Linden came away with a sense of pride over how much Linden municipality supports Linden City Schools. I am here to ask the school system to reconsider because, if it’s in Dixon’s Mills, it’s not a Linden home game, it’s a Dixon’s Mills home game. The city of Linden has got your back in this.”

According to figures offered by Smith, the total cost of operating the field for a season is approximately $13,000. The approach Smith outlined would have Marengo Academy and Linden each paying $6,500 to play on the field for the 2011 season.

“All Linden Athletic Association gets paid for is the actual bills that the field accrues,” Smith said following the meeting. “The total cost for running that field is $13,000. Our proposal was to split the total, $6,500 each. The city of Linden offered to pay $3,000 so Linden City Schools would not have to pay more than the $3,500 they are accustomed to.”

In light of all the information and emotion presented at the meeting, LCBOE chair Eunice Jones called the open discussion to a close and offered that will hold a meeting in the near future to discuss the issue. When pressed, Jones offered no hint as to when that meeting would take place.

Barring a change in the board’s stance on the issue, Linden will play out most of its home games at Marengo High School while Marengo Academy will — according to Smith — be faced with the onus of procuring the funds to cover the portion of Linden Athletic Field operational costs which would have been covered by Linden High School.

The Patriots face Fruitdale Friday night for their second “home” game in as many weeks. The game is tentatively set to be played at Marengo High.