Fourth Down

Home Field Advantage made a hard drive towards their goal of funding private designs for a Reynolds stadium over the past few weeks. This has brought me back to the blog to offer some play-by-play of the action. I can only speculate what motivated this spate of skirmishes, but RJ Reynolds High’s recent series of plays appears to have been inspired by another field intrusion.

On June 14, Hanes Park, Reynolds High, Wiley Middle, the William G. White YMCA, and the surrounding neighborhood was thrust into lockdown for a terrifying hour as law enforcement officers descended upon the area in pursuit of an active shooter in a high speed chase that culminated in Hanes Park. Parents loaded Reynolds football players into nearby cars and neighbors ushered children off the playground into homes to offer shelter awaiting an all clear. When it was over, folks were shaken, stunned, and grateful no innocent bystanders were injured. 

As I waited, hands still trembling, for my adrenaline to recede, I recognized with appalling consolation that my son knew exactly what to do and was far less phased by the situation than I was—but that’s another story. (Why hasn’t our follow up local news coverage focused more on that aspect of a school shooting incident?)

Looking back, what I found interesting is how the influential forces that surround Reynolds Athletics decided this was an opportune time to pick up the ball and run with it.

On June 19, the Winston Salem Journal ran a story that erroneously announced public access to Hanes Park would be limited. In a bizarre apples vs. bitter melon comparison, the reporter trotted out a runner with earbuds and the active shooter to make the case that the public’s open access to the park was a safety concern for schools. According to Darrell Walker, the assistant superintendent for operations for WS/FCS, schools would “get exclusive use of the track and the surrounding athletic fields…from about 2:30 to 7pm” a schedule that is very different than a well known longstanding legal agreement.

In the video that ran with the Journal story about the dangers of public access to our public park, a man wearing a white shirt, blue shorts, and hat walks in lane 1. It’s obvious he’s a pedestrian not a gunman. Rather than coming around the track as one would expect, the man appears from behind the students. This odd entry adds to the staged quality of the video used to illustrate the dangers of student and pedestrian encounters.

The following week, on June 28, although noting how goofily discordant the examples cited were, Scott Sexton again employed the runner and the gunner to make the case that “professionals ought to look again at how the park is used.” While he explained that there had been no changes to the user agreement the city and school system first signed in 1999 and extended as recently as 2019 in a correction to the earlier report, he hit every other talking point that had been included in it a second time and disparaged West Enders as an easily offended “gilded class” to boot. 

It was a third play that moved the ball much farther down the proverbial field than ever before. In a move that made it undeniably clear a hard drive was in progress, the district called a special meeting of the Building and Grounds Committee to discuss possible full funding for the Home Field Advantage stadium designs. The entire Board of Education was present for discussion at the meeting in which Hanes Park users and Reynolds student athletes were again the primary focus. Committee members passed a motion which led to the scheduling of another special meeting to bring stadium funding up for a vote by the Board of Education. The day chosen was only two days later, after the end of the school year during what should be a board member’s summer vacation schedule, on a Thursday afternoon before the July 4th holiday weekend. Clearly this was a hard push for the end zone and RJ Reynolds was going for it.

To be brief (I promise to follow up with more detail in my next blog post) the fourth down fell far short of Home Field Advantage’s goal. They did not receive a pledge to commit any additional taxpayer money towards their privately designed but to date publicly funded stadium initiative. The game is not over. At least the Winston Salem Journal appears to have delivered that threat on Home Field Advantage’s behalf when they updated their online coverage of the vote with a revised title that promised Reynolds stadium wrangling will continue after failed proposals to pledge millions.

Although the story broke on line and was printed under a more straight-forward title Money for Reynolds football stadium gets “No” vote from WS/FCS, the title was later revised. Although there was discussion of plans to build a playing field for Reynolds’s and Wiley students beside Wiley’s new gym and plans to review ways to provide a stadium for not only Reynolds but also Parkland and Prep, the other two schools in the district that do not have on-campus stadiums, the updated title speculates instead on a dark future.

However, we all know the rules—possession now turns over to Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools or should if Home Field Advantage can be good sports about this. Ideally it is our district that prioritizes spending and allocates it only after carefully weighing the needs of all students equally, without any group placing a thumb on the scale. The entire board promised to work toward a stadium solution not only for Reynolds but also for the other two schools, Parkland and Winston Salem Prep, that do not have on-campus stadiums.

Take heart in the knowledge that Reynolds and Wiley students were promised an on-campus playing field that will address all their needs except perhaps one—a more conveniently located Friday night stadium experience. However, as several board members pointed out, the Home Field Advantage-designed stadium was too small. It would never have been sufficient to provide that ideal experience anyway. Although it could accommodate the student body, it would not be large enough for parents, alumni, and other guests, too. Promises offering VIP seating to donors in exchange for pledges would mean that some students would be shut out from attending their own games. Despite all claims to the contrary, it is clear a private group has foisted an inadequate solution with no actual benefits upon our public institution that resulted in real costs for taxpayers.

Public use of a public park isn’t the problem here, but limiting access of the public to public process is. It is high time for the school district to put an end to this unfruitful private partnership and renew its commitment to an open, transparent, public process as it explores solutions for access and equity in public education.