Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Bread and Circus Worth $60 Million

The Director's Notes Blog is back from a wonderful summer hiatus.

I love the fall. For me this period of the year marks an end one season but the beginning of another one. Arts organizations announce their upcoming programs, fans and AC are off in favor of more cooler nights for sleeping, and one of this nation's favorite past-times gets underway as the ol' pigskin is kicked-off from the tees of Pop Warner sandlot leagues to the overpaid, gladiators who don NFL licensed and Nike sponsored gear.

As strange as this may sound from a blogger who dedicates his time on writing about topics that surround arts organizations, I deeply love football. 


Get me a good game of college ball or a rivalry between pee-wee leagues or high schools, and I am into it.

Indeed, football has a place in my heart...and schedule book.
Don't know why. I never experienced going to a large high school or grew up in a metropolitan area. Our "midget" football teams were part of small farming communities going by the names of Brocton Bulldogs, Ripley Eagles and the Sherman Cowtippers. These small towns fielded squads of 25 or 30 kids, with numerous players holding defensive and offensive positions, or scrupleously known to innocently go "both ways".

Rivalries did exists but nowhere on the magnitude of two large schools going at it over the past fifty years. No sir, these games were played under dimly lit fields or in daylight with hometown crowds topping out at 350 with packs of kids playing "kill" behind the bleachers. League champions took home $1.50 "gold" plated statues of facemaskless players in some unmovable Heisman contortion.

When I read about the recent opening of a $60 million dollar high school football stadium in Allen, Texas, a small suburb outside of Dallas, my jaw hit the floor.
Approved by a school board of 5,000 student in May 2008, this state-of-the-art stadium will host the Allen Eagles, a high school team noted for excellence with state championships displayed in the trophy case. This highly touted program generates 15,000 to 20,000 fans per game and filled the sprawling Jerry Jones' (owner of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys) Taj Mahal 100,000 seat stadium with 50,000 fans during championship games.

With a high school band numbering 800 there is no doubt this is big-business in Texas.
But is this necessary?
Although this was part of $120 million bond package that included a modernized performance arts center worth nearly the same amount, was it necessary to spend this much money on a football stadium at a time when nearly all school districts in American are making deep cuts to budgets and the laying off teachers.

Yes, to the "state-of-the-arts" performance arts center because of the long reach of influence this has on the student body and, ultimately, the community, but, a football stadium? I don't understand how that will benefit the entire Allen student body.

Of course it is a matter of economics and part of that Texas mentality of "big, big, bigger" pride, but one cannot help but to think about the ever ongoing arguement to whether or not sports should be a tax-funded program in the educational system.

Let's just assume that the Allen school board decides to not fund construction for a new stadium and reinvests the $60 million into developing a job-training facility? Or creates a research facility for student to devise new energy technologies? Either possibility would result in a well-trained student body prepared for the 21st century.
What then to do about all those rabid fans clamoring over their Eagles?
Much like cultural institutions, a majority of funding for a new stadium can could from the private and business sectors with members of the football team and coaching staff coming up with creative fundraising events. If these efforts fall short of the $60 million, then as is the case with cultural institutions, the stadium will have to be built with limited funds and within budget restraints.
Unfortunately, the Allen Eagles stadium has been built, opened the 2012-13 season and currently is 2-0 heading for another state championship. I am sure the next new $60 million dollar stadium is in planning, precidence has been set, and some school board is itching to have their monument to amateur football. 

And built it they will. 
Meanwhile, American children lag far behind in science and mathematics, their communicative skills are being reduced to 145 word tweets and do so as communities continue to undervalue the importance of Arts in education by approving budgets that cut programs and teachers. 
Oh well, right? We have our bread and circuses under the Friday Night lights, and do so in 60 million dollar comfort. 
Matthew LaChiusa is the Executive/Artistic Director for the American Repertory Theater of WNY and is a avid football fan. His passion for the game came from his father Louis and his uncle Steve Nichols from his Pop Warner "midget football" days as a member of the Westfield Golden Hawks.