Friday, August 26, 2011

26 AUG 11: Scoreboard Watching

The high school football season kicked off in Columbus Thursday night, with Randolph-Clay clubbing Kendrick 33-20. Randolph-Clay has a running back named Cornelius Bennett - the same name as a legendary linebacker with Alabama and the Buffalo Bills. So has any Columbus couple named its baby boy Matt Ryan yet?

That game was played at McClung Memorial Stadium - a ballpark with a lot of history, that's still getting a lot of use. Dozens of football games will be played there in the coming weeks, from youth league marathons to college rivalries. In fact, it was nice of Randolph-Clay and Kendrick fans to keep the bleachers clean for Carver-Spencer tonight by keeping most of them vacant.

Yet after about 95 years of use, I wonder if McClung Memorial Stadium is TOO historic in one way. There's only one scoreboard, high above the north end zone. And it shows.... well, little more than the score. You can see basic information about the game. But that's it. There's nothing to get your attention in case Carver is blowing away another also-ran.

That "basic board" was the norm for most U.S. football stadiums 40 years ago. But in 2011, McClung Memorial's scoreboard looks quaint at best and outdated at worst. Some high school football fans can see fancier graphics simply by bringing their iPhones to the game.

The lack of a 21st-century scoreboard at McClung Memorial says several things about Columbus. First, it shows inconsistency. Matrix scoreboards have been part of Golden Park and the Columbus Civic Center for years. Special messages at football games are left to the public address announcer -- unless the cheerleaders are exceptional at doing ad lib routines.

In fact, you can drive past several Columbus churches and see fancier display signs than the McClung Memorial scoreboard. Even the Reaves Wrecking office on Tenth Street has joined that trend - and the people most likely to see those messages are the friends and relatives of jail inmates.

The second thing I see in the old McClung Memorial scoreboard is a tight city budget. After all, the Parks and Recreation Department maintains the stadium. It was able to pay for a modern new Civic Center display sign along Fourth Street a couple of years ago. So if Tony Adams can pay a little restitution, there soon could be another one....

Yet the city doesn't necessarily have to pay money for a new scoreboard. It could follow the example of Callaway Stadium in LaGrange, where a "jumbotron" was installed three years ago thanks to business donations [21 Aug 08]. McClung Memorial Stadium doesn't even have a "tron" - unless football teams watch that old movie in the locker rooms.

(And if cost is a concern, advertising could be sold on the scoreboard to cover the expenses. Who said Aflac trivia questions were only for the fans watching on TV?)

But that brings up the third message I get about Columbus from the McClung Memorial scoreboard. For all the "Hometown Spirit" hype, high school football normally doesn't draw big crowds unless there's a special event attached. Tonight's Carver-Spencer showdown is one such event. Expect more passing of business cards at the concession stands than footballs during the game.

Unless Carver is on a roll toward a state title, local high school football teams reinforce the history of Columbus being a poor sports city. Football games matter more to people in smaller communities - even at Phenix City Central, where they've sometimes sparked shouting matches between school district officials and city leaders.

I don't recall exactly where I heard or read this, but I think the upcoming renovation of Kinnett Stadium is supposed to include a new scoreboard. But that would be funded by school sales tax money, not the city -- and school board member Mark Cantrell ought to be able to pay off any spending gaps.

McClung Memorial Stadium now hosts three big college football games every fall, which bring in thousands of visitors. Wouldn't it be nice to impress those crowds with a nice new scoreboard -- and maybe even have one at both ends of the field? Or are city officials concerned a video replay board might inspire some people to challenge police actions?

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: What do trust and atheists have in common? You'll see....

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