I grew up in a very small town. Very small, tiny, little town. Not even a town technically it was a village. In the village of Hopkins, Michigan we had approximately one. One gas station, one bowling alley (all 4 magnificent lanes), one ice cream parlor, one grocery store, one place to rent moves, one hardware store, one bank, and only one place to play sports.
On Friday nights the roar of the crowd, along with cow bells and buzzers could be heard across town as the Mighty Hopkins Vikings took the field to defend there previous years title. The following morning a smaller yet still enthusiastic roar could be heard as youth football leagues walked onto the same field. The same was true of our baseball and softball fields. In a small town with limited resources there was no separation between rec leagues and school leagues.
That’s why when I read Dick Cook’s Piece I immediately realized that he had hit the nail square on the head. We have a beautiful facility down at Camp Jordan. “The Jewel of East Ridge.” Its utilization for East Ridge School Sports is the exact solution needed. Not just for the Raymond James Stadium problem, but for all of the problems.
The County School District continues to neglect not just our athletic properties but properties throughout the county. They expect parents, boosters, and communities to come together to fill their budget gap. The problem is that in communities home to Title I schools the “fat check” writing ability of the parents and boosters is limited. So we have a crumbling stadium. A tennis court, which according to the coach who came before city council, that needs a $10,000 resurface job. We have a baseball team that can’t maintain its field properly.
Then across town we have “The Jewel.” With 275 acres and a $1.5 million annual operating budget, Camp Jordan is a well-maintained, beautiful piece of property that any city would kill to have. We have amazing soccer fields, brand new tennis courts soon to be under construction, and laser-leveled baseball fields maintained daily by professionals. People who know about over-seeding, mowing, pot ash, etc. These facilities blow the ones used for East Ridge school sports out of the water.
Sure Camp Jordan is currently lacking a football field, but all that takes is a little imagination and a couple portable goal posts. The full-size soccer fields at the park are large enough to accommodate football play as well. On top of that we have an extremely knowledgeable, well-connected Parks and Recreation Director in the form of Mr. Stump Martin. I’m sure if he put his mind to it, figuring out a way to play a football game is a simple prospect.
So why would we do anything to fix a problem caused by the neglect of the school system? Well, my dear reader, it’s because at the end of the day these are our kids. These are children of East Ridge. They are, at least the majority of them, the sons and daughters of East Ridge Taxpaying Residents.
These kids are innocent victims of bureaucratic neglect. Some adults in a room somewhere else in the county decided one day to stop maintaining the fields they need to conduct their sporting events on. They did nothing wrong and are placed in this situation through no fault of their own. If we can’t step in when necessary to make sure the children of East Ridge are provided for then what is the point?
There is no reason to have separate facilities, especially when the school district has shown such gross neglect in making sure they are maintained. Instead of the city paying a few thousand to this sport or that sport to help them eek by each season we can provide them with a beautiful complex to play in that we are maintaining anyway.
If you are still not sold and need another reason why this is a good idea let me lay it out for you. County Commissioner Tim Boyd has been and is being wrongfully raked through the coals over this fiasco. Commissioner Boyd’s discretionary fund was never large enough to fix the problem alone. His interest in fixing this problem has always required the assistance of another well-motivated, financially backed party. Without such a party Commissioner Boyd’s efforts would have amounted to little more than lipstick on a pig.
Now, with the recent Tennessee Attorney General’s ruling, he cannot help if he wanted to. Do you want to know what Commissioner Boyd CAN DO? He CAN give money to the city of East Ridge to make improvements to Camp Jordan. Improvements like say, oh, a removable goal post that would just happen to be needed to host high school and youth football games.
With his help and those of our city leaders we could transition “The Jewel of East Ridge” into one that hosts youth, select, and school sports of all types.
Will it be “Raymond James Stadium?” Nope. Will it be “Shanks Field?” Nope. It will be different. It will require some ingenuity, but in the long run it will be better. It will ensure East Ridge students a home for sports for decades to come.