In The Cheap Seats
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 18, 2005 - Sometimes, I have to write a column that I really don't want to.

This is one of those times.

A couple of actions have transpired this week, though, that dictates me taking a side.

The two issues - one is the non-renewal of the two-year contract for Sulphur Springs head football coach Brad Turner, and the other is the continued debacle that is Gerald Prim Stadium - are pushing SSHS athletics, primarily football, down the wrong road.

Let's tackle them separately.

The first issue is Turner's contract. After going 17-6 the last two years, including 9-3 last season, and having 16 players sign college scholarships during that time, it would seem the renewal of Turner's contract - which comes up in February - would have been a formality.

Not so.

With athletic director Dewayne McMeans' decision to retire and go half-time for the next year, the school board is understandably moving toward a combination of AD/head football coach.

Because of the transition, Turner's contract, which lasts through next season, wasn't renewed, and it won't come up again until next February. That means he has three options - look for another job now; coach next fall and then look for another position at the end of that season, which would also mean moving before his son's senior year; or wait until February and gamble that his contract will be renewed.

By not renewing his contract, the school board has put not only Turner but the assistant coaches in a vise. Many of them are in the same position, because if a new coach comes in, he usually brings in new assistants.

Turner has done what he was hired to do. He's been head coach for four years, and each of the last three years has been better than the previous one, culminating in the 2004 season of 9-3 and the first playoff victory since 1998.

He and his staff run a month-long spring training, organize summer workouts and 7-on-7 teams, keep the weight room open during the summer, and host two week-long camps for young players.

The non-renewal, I believe, was a disservice.

Now, let's move on to the playing surface at Gerald Prim Stadium.

The school board has the perfect opportunity to do not only the right thing, but the financially sound thing - put Field Turf in Prim Stadium.

The issue came up again this week, when the board moved in a direction to try to once again improve the natural grass surface. In my opinion, that's the wrong way to go.

For a little over $300,000, Sulphur Springs could have a playing surface that would last 20 years or more. And the money for the surface WOULD NOT RAISE TAXES.

Let's review that last statement: IT WOULD NOT RAISE TAXES.

When Tony Cook was board president, he outlined a proposal in which funds for Field Turf would come from money already budgeted for field care plus gate receipts. That way, the people who buy tickets for games - whether they be from Sulphur Springs, Mount Pleasant, Paris or wherever - would be paying for the surface. That's the way it should be.

As it stands now, the board is moving in the direction of redoing everything that was supposed to have been done last year - installing new drains and improving the sprinkler system, leveling and crowning the field, and putting down new turf.

Last year, that process cost the district a negotiated $30,000. In return, the district received nothing useful. The drains are too small, the field is neither level nor crowned, and what turf is on the field does little more than keep the sand in place.

Now, for another $71,000 to $81,000, the school board wants to do it all over again because the field right now is almost unplayable for soccer.

That will raise the cost to well over $100,000, and that doesn't include the cost of renting two stadiums last year (over $5,000), feeding players for those trips, transportation costs, and refunds of more than $1,000 for returned season tickets.

That's in the past, but three field experts told the board on Monday that because of the immense amount of traffic on the field from sub-varsity football, varsity football, band practice, and boys and girls soccer, that no grass surface will hold up in the future.

The school board should not be throwing good money after bad, which the field professionals indicated would happen year after year if they continue on this course.

One alternative that has been discussed is improving the middle school field to take some of the traffic off of Prim Stadium. At what price? Where will that money come from? Why not sink that money into improving Prim Stadium?

To his credit, outgoing board member Eddie Northcutt told other board members on Monday that of the four field improvement proposals, the one he wanted to see wasn't listed - a proposal for Field Turf. Unfortunately, Northcutt will not be running for re-election next month.

In his stead, it's time for the other board members to do the right thing, the economical thing, the logical thing.

Install Field Turf.

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