About three dozen East Ridge High School Alumni and other interested parties gathered Monday evening in a storefront on Ringgold Road to talk about what they can do to help the school rebuild Raymond James Stadium.
The discussion centered on what can be done to raise funds to augment efforts by the Hamilton County School Board, the County Commission and the City of East Ridge to replace a stadium that was condemned by city officials in late August as being unsafe.
County Commissioner Tim Boyd (Dist. 8), who represents all of East Ridge as well as parts of East Brainerd, said it was imperative that plans to raise money and put it to work to help with the stadium is contingent on what county schools officials do first.
“The Department of Education must take the lead in this,” Commissioner Boyd said. He told those gathered that the school board would decide when and how the nearly-60-year old stadium would be razed. The board would next determine the funding for bleachers to replace what had been dismantled.
Bobby Hudgens, Class of ’74 and an area banker, said financial support from ERHS alumni should hold off until it is determined what kind of funding the county might come through with for the new stadium. Hudgens said if the county is willing to spend $150,000 on new bleachers, that perhaps alumni fund-raising could be used to augment that amount to make it better.
Boyd said he already has received bids on constructing stands that would accommodate as many as 835 fans. It would be modeled on the bleachers of East Hamilton High School.
“I’ve got $20,000 worth of volunteer help to construct the stadium,” Boyd said. “One specification with a target of $100,000 came in at $125,000. It would have to go to (formal county) bid, but they could use the specs that I have.”
Boyd said the stadium could be razed for about $75,000, so the entire project could be in the $200,000 range.
Those in attendance, representing classes from the early 1960s to the 1990s, were short on neither passion nor ideas. Money could be raise by putting on everything from golf tournaments to fishing rodeos. They talked of building field houses for the teams to dress out in and concession stands for fans.
Football coach Tracy Malone, whose team is undefeated and assured a spot in the post-season playoffs, said he appreciated the concern for perks for the facility. What he really wants is for his team to play on Shanks Field for the remainder of the season.
“What we need is a stadium,” Coach Malone said. “Some place to call home. We need bleachers.”
David Copeland, Class of ’67, said lots of graduating classes want to get involved and show their “Pioneer Pride.” He said that “nobody knows what’s going to happen.” He noted an idea to sell salvaged material from the razed stadium. People could buy bricks (or cinder blocks) and have a piece of history. “We’ve got lots of people that want to help.”
Hudgens suggested that an “ambassador” be identified from various graduating classes that could be a point person for organizing and raising money.
Jane Richards Sharp, Class of ’69, said “there has been a groundswell of support from people who want to get involved and they don’t even live here any longer.” Sharp, who worked in fundraising for McCallie, told the group that if they really wanted credibility with people they are asking to donate, they must first donate themselves.
The idea of establishing a not-for-profit alumni association gained traction immediately. Regardless of what happens with the stadium, the school needs an established alumni association, said Tim James, son of Raymond James and former football coach at East Ridge.
“We have so many graduates of this school,” said Liz Henley. “There is no reason why we can’t have a robust, active and dedicated alumni association. It’s easier with a winning football team.”
The group decided to meet next Monday evening at the ERHS library at 7 p.m. At that time a treasurer may be selected who would be responsible for the accounts of any money raised in the future.