We pride ourselves on being the high school sports capital of West Virginia, a self-proclaimed title we feel comfortable bestowing on ourselves due to the success of the athletic programs at Parkersburg High, Parkersburg South, Parkersburg Catholic and Williamstown.
It's Parkersburg that was the runner-up in ESPN's TitleTown USA competition.
It's Parkersburg that has more than 200 state high school championships.
Yet, there is one vital sports area where we seriously lack - facilities.
We don't have a civic center or even an indoor facility large enough to conduct the state high school wrestling tournament even though Parkersburg High and Parkersburg South are the two most successful Class AAA programs in history, with a combined 39 state team championships.
We don't have a baseball facility adequate enough to house a minor league baseball franchise or to make a bid on the state high school baseball tournament.
We have three football stadiums, all with various needs. On Tuesday night, members of the Wood County Board of Education are going to be asked to offer financial support to Stadium Field, whose bleachers have been condemned due to structural problems that make them unsafe.
Although this obviously didn't happen overnight, it now has become an emergency. One that places school board members in a difficult position. At the same time they are discussing downsizing (I hate that word) the number of teaching positions in the county and essentially expelling teachers already in the system, they also are being asked to spend money on athletics.
That's a tough sell. A tough vote. One I'm glad I'm not making.
Before I made it, I would want to know a lot more facts than what members of the public have before them. We have three public high schools with stadiums. Each has its own athletic department, but how much money do those departments have and how much of it goes to maintaining and upgrading facilities? Each stadium also has a committee that works on its behalf. What is their level of funding?
To the general public, athletic facilities are the most visible part of any school. While few visitors to athletic events recently have stepped foot into a classroom, they do see the football stadium or the gymnasium, which really is the only impression of the school they have.
I remember attending a Parkersburg High School away football game at a relatively new school about which I had heard great things. But their football stadium had a cramped, far too small pressbox, an unlevel muddy playing surface and an inadequate number of seats. So I left with a rather bad impression.
Stadium Field is a community icon. It is the scene of football games, track meets and soccer matches, not to mention numerous community and school events, including Parkersburg High School's graduation. It's a vital part of our community. It is worth saving.
But it is no more important to Parkersburg High than the Erickson All-Sports Facility is to Parkersburg South or Williamstown's stadium is to that high school and its community. Both Erickson and Williamstown also are need in of upgrades. Perhaps those needs aren't as immediately urgent as the one at Stadium Field, but do we want to keep doing crisis management rather than preventative maintenance?
Ever since the Stadium Field situation became public, the reaction from many Parkersburg South supporters has been predictable. It's PHS, they say, so the school board will say yes. That attitude stems from the fact when South was created in 1967, rather than build a high school, the school board at that time renovated a former junior high school, slapped a sign on the front that said Parkersburg South High School and created one of the biggest high schools in the state that not only didn't have a football stadium, but also lacked a gymnasium big enough to play home basketball games. It created a lot of hard feelings and gave the school's supporters the impression they were being treated as second-class citizens, an attitude many still hold today. Thus, the current school board members are being punished for the sins of their fathers.
This is a tough, multi-faceted issue. One that shouldn't get thrown to the backburner even after the Stadium Field decision is made. Otherwise, we'll just keep going from one crisis to another, or as the popular saying goes, keep doing the same thing and wondering why we are getting the same results.
Perhaps it is time to combine all our forces from the local city governments, the school system, the stadium committees and other community-minded organizations into a group charged with finding a permanent solution to our facility woes. Perhaps it is time to put everything on the table, from building one huge complex with a civic center and/or a stadium that would service all the schools and become the center of our community.
We need some leadership. It will be interesting to see who steps up.
Contact Dave Poe at firstname.lastname@example.org