BOE votes to leave Linden Athletic Field

Published 8:55 pm Thursday, September 1, 2011

LINDEN — After nearly an hour of discussion at Thursday night’s board of education meeting, resolution came resoundingly with a 4-1 vote to allow the Patriots to play their 2011 home games at Marengo High School in Dixon’s Mills.

“The Linden Athletic Association is terribly disappointed that the Linden Board of Education has decided to pull out of Linden,” Association president Hale Smith said. “I feel like we had solved all the issues. Obviously, we didn’t. We’re just very disappointed that the Patriots won’t play in Linden this year.”

“At this point in time, it is the best decision given the circumstances,” Linden High School principal Tim Thurman said. “We have a very good crowd that follows us everywhere we go. You can get home field instantly with a big crowd.”

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The debate began raging last week when Linden High initially announced its plans to take its home games away from Linden Athletic Field, a facility the school had shared with Marengo Academy since 1978.

The field, which is owned by the Linden Athletic Association, has been rented to teams for a cost of $500 per game for the past several years. This season, the LAA estimated the total cost of managing the field at $13,000 and proposed that each school pay $6,500 to cover those bills.

The inflated cost, coupled with the removal of the bleachers on the visitors side of the field due to insurance concerns, drove Linden to play its first home game of the season on the road against Central-Tuscaloosa last Thursday night.

That same evening, the Marengo County Board of Education agreed to allow the Patriots to play the remainder of their 2011 home games at Marengo High School in Dixon’s Mills.

That vote came the night after a meeting between Smith, city administrator Cheryl Hall, Linden High principal Tim Thurman, Linden City Schools superintendent Dr. Tyrone Smith and city attorney Woody Dinning.

During Monday’s board of education meeting, Dinning reported his understanding that an agreement had been reached to return Linden High School home football games to Linden Athletic Field. That proposal, which included $3,000 of financial support from the city as well as the placing of new bleachers on the visitors side of the field, met little enthusiasm from the crowd of more than 60 gathered at Monday’s meeting.

While the board took no action Monday night, Linden BOE member William Curry urged board chair Eunice Jones to push for finality during Thursday’s meeting. His urging included a more definitive approach than that which had been proposed by the football team’s booster club earlier in the evening.

The booster club offered that Linden return to play at Linden Athletic Field if the city took control of the field, both Linden High and Marengo Academy used the same concession stand, the cattle-style gate be removed and all signage and colors indicating the field as the home of Marengo Academy be removed.

Curry’s two proposals fit more with the spirit of the impassioned speech given by Linden High alumnus Jonathan Jenkins.

“In 1978, when (George P. Austin High School) and Linden merged, we didn’t have a home field. We haven’t had a home field since,” Jenkins implored. “Any payment to continue this process is nothing but blood money to the devil.”

His sentiments drew a round of applause from the majority of a crowd that numbered near 70 people.

“I don’t think a single person wants to go back to the same situation,” Jones, the lone dissenting vote of the evening, said.

Thurman pointed the board toward considering the players, offering that he would do whatever the board saw as best for the student-athletes involved.

“It bothers me to even ride through that parking lot right now. There is nothing out there to represent Linden High School right now,” Thurman said. “To ask our children to be slapped on the ground and pretend like nothing has happened would be a great injustice.”

Before making his first of two proposals on the evening, Curry referred to a decades old deal that put Linden Athletic Field into the control of the Linden Athletic Association.

“The forefathers who let this go to the Linden Athletic Association made a mistake. It is time for a correction,” Curry said. “I am not going to sit here and let a child be treated unfairly. Unless the city is in control of this thing, they don’t want to go back.”

After Curry’s initial proposal passed with a 4-1 advantage, he quickly followed with a second suggestion, which passed 5-0. He motioned that the Linden Board of Education should propose to the city council that it assume control over Linden Athletic Field and that, should the city decline to do so, the field be deeded to Linden City Schools.

Reportedly, the deed to the athletic field is written such that the field would return to the city’s control should the Linden Athletic Association cease to exist.

“Linden Athletic Field was established for the kids in the community,” Smith, who did not attend the meeting, said when informed of the unanimous vote on the second proposal. “Linden Athletic Association is open to any proposals that can help Linden Athletic Field continue to be what it was originally set up to be, an asset for the kids of the community.”

For head football coach Andro Williams, the vote meant his team could put its secondary concerns to rest and focus on football.

“We tried to make it easy for them to focus and worry about football,” Williams said. “We try to make any place we play our home. If we have to play all the games on the road, that’s just the situation we are in.”

While Williams was anxious to shift his focus entirely to Fruitdale, the region foe his team will host at Marengo High School Friday night at 7 p.m., he was impressed with the unified manner in which the delegation in attendance approached the board of education.

“Our people are standing up now and being unified, having the same feelings about who they are and what they stand for in regards to our student-athletes here in Linden,” Williams said. “We can all be for something and have a plan on where we are trying to go and which direction we are trying to go.”