“The field is terrible, and it’s no secret it’s the worst field there is,” Smoky Mountain Mustang Youth Football & Cheer President Jason Clark told commissioners. “As a parent, a health provider and football organizer, I wouldn’t feel right putting a child on that field and have them be safe. There’s a lot of history up there on that field. It’s something to be proud of, and we want to take it back to where we want it to be.”
For years, the natural sod field in question has been notorious for flooding out football games, disrupting practices and physical education classes, on top of being an obvious eyesore for a school that prides itself in gathering together as a community under the Friday Night Lights. Not to mention, the 19 sports and organizations that rely on the field for their practices and events, only to question its safety each time they step foot on the ripped up surface.
As it stands, the school estimated it costs over $20,000 annually just to keep the field at its current condition. With the new proposal, the school would build a stone foundation and lay atop it the latest in organic Astroturf, a modernized take on the rubber substance that is safer when it comes to “G-force” involved in falling and impacting the ground. Between the two current bidder contractors (Medallion and Sports Construction Management), the project has a total estimated cost hovering around $945,000.
“You did know commissioners that these fields have a 10- to 15-year lifespan and you have to replace them? You did know that, didn’t you commissioners?” said Carl Iobst, the lone dissenter in the audience. “Buy school supplies for the teachers and the classrooms. I suggest everybody, instead of donating your money to this boondoggle, donate the money to a teacher and supplies for their classrooms.”
Addressing Iobst’s concerns, the board pointed out that the money would come from capital campaign funds that can only used on brick and mortar projects, and not for anything classroom related. Iobst would later be escorted from the room by the sheriff in anger of the board’s eventual vote on the matter.
Approaching the microphone stand, Cindi Simmons, athletic director for Jackson County Public Schools, gave an update to the commissioners about where recent fundraising efforts stood. According to Simmons, JCPS has pledged $315,000, with the National Football League donating $200,000, as well as $21,025 in public contributions and $600 in uniform sales. The commissioners themselves had already pledged $200,000. But, along with their fundraising efforts, Simmons stood in front of the board and asked for the remaining $205,635 to complete the project.
“As we began this journey back in February, the very first thing we did was go out and involve our stakeholders, groups and organizations that utilize the field. We checked things out and there is a need here,” Simmons said. “We’ve reached out to the public, and they’ve responded very passionately and united to see this project through — individuals and businesses are stepping up.”
And with the ongoing public support, Commission Chairman Brian McMahan noted that if the board were to vote in favor of the additional funding that the school would continue to fundraise in an effort to chip away at the county’s financial obligation to the project.
“This is a lot of darn money. It’s outrageous how much it’s going to cost. But, to look back to at least 1960, and you see the reasons to spend this. You couldn’t predict all these teams that have come down through the line through the years,” added Commissioner Boyce Deitz, a highly regarded former educator and football coach in Jackson and Swain counties. “I’d vote against this if it wasn’t for all the use we’ll get out of this. Sometimes you’ve got to go first class and need to bite the bullet for the kids, and I’m willing to bite the bullet.”
Following Deitz’s comments, the board voted unanimously to grant the school the $205,635 needed.
“It’s been a little over a year now we’ve been talking about this, and Boyce here talking about how little we as a government have supported athletics in this county,” McMahan said. “This is more about one sport, this is about kids in the band, soccer and physical education classes. There are so many good things that will come about from this.”