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Topic: Gen'l Interest: $60 million HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL STADIUM
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Gen'l Interest: $60 million HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL STADIUM
Posted: Oct 26, 2012 8:25 PM
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From ESPN Magazine, Monday, October 1, 2012. See
This is our house

A $60 million high school stadium just makes sense to the folks in Allen, Texas

By Jim Dent

In June, two months before the grand opening of
one of America's richest high school football
stadiums, I stood with Steve "Bubba" Williams on
the photo deck of a three-tiered press box. He
gazed to the west, where the dirt roads once
crisscrossed the open prairie in Allen, Texas,
and recalled that first morning in 1975 when he
drove his dust-covered pickup to work at Allen
High School.

"This was just a farming community, and Stacy
Road was a dirt road," said the Allen athletic
director. "Just a lot of farmhouses."

From chicken coops and cornfields to a roughly
$60 million stadium, Bubba has certainly seen it
all. The Allen flatland now boils with traffic as
Williams watches the light turn green at the
six-lane intersection of Exchange Parkway and
Greenville Avenue. And the wheels of progress
roll on.

Bubba said that he honestly never imagined all
the fuss over this 18,000-seat horseshoe. But
there is plenty. Folks across America have been
talking about Eagle Stadium since The New York
Times wrote a lengthy piece 19 months before it
opened, and practically every media source in
Texas has produced a major story. By mid-August,
with Allen fans already whipped into a frenzy,
Williams was forced to increase season-ticket
sales from 5,000 to 8,252. Four days before the
first game, thousands of fans began lining up
just past dawn to grab the final 5,000 grandstand
seats. They were gone in a day and a half. On
Aug. 31, against defending Class 5A state
champion Southlake Carroll, attendance was
announced at 21,776. If not for an order from the
fire marshal, Allen could have sold several
thousand more tickets.

I have lived in Allen for more than two years and
sat in the stands the past three seasons. Bubba
and I have talked Texas football over hamburgers
a few times. I have covered sports for 41 years
in some form. Never, however, have I witnessed
the palpable energy of those two hours leading to
kickoff. The tailgating scene that started around
noon was straight out of Tuscaloosa. In spite of
the temperature soaring to 103 degrees by 5 p.m.,
the foot traffic on that Friday looked like a
Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium.

Among the most eager was Bob Curtis, a four-year
letterman for the Eagles from 1960 to 1964 and
part of Allen's 47-game winning streak that ended
in '61. He served as Allen's facilities chief for
32 years, retiring in 2010. When he entered Eagle
Stadium, he said: "This is what a stadium in
Allen is supposed to look like. Allen does
everything top-notch and first-class." But no one
in Allen was prouder than Williams, who tells me
he felt chills running down his spine as the
Eagles roared onto the field and the 700-piece
band played the school song. At that moment he
said to himself, EFFL -- Eagle Fan for Life.

Together, Williams and Curtis have spent 73 years
at Allen High. To them, a $60 million stadium
just makes sense. It is a show of support for
their community, because high school football in
Texas is an identity, like the cowboy, the
rancher and the oil wildcatter. It has often been
said that football in the Lone Star State is
larger than religion. On certain days, I'd be
hard-pressed not to agree.

But people in places like Trenton, N.J., and
Oshkosh, Wis., have not been so impressed with
the mega-millions spent on an extracurricular
activity. How was it possible, they asked, that
this city of about 88,000 could pass a $119
million bond referendum in 2009 with America's
economy going south? Williams has received
hundreds of stinging emails from all over the
country. In reference to them, he says: "I just
tell 'em that in Allen we are proud of our kids
and are doing the best we can by them. The people
in Allen are fully behind the stadium. Nobody
here complains one bit."

What is there to complain about? Eagle Stadium
has the most seats of any one-school stadium in
Texas. It's fitted with a $1.2 million turf and a
38-by-23 hi-def video screen that most FBS
programs would be proud of. They'd also be proud
of the accompanying 84-yard-long weight room and
the marching band, which takes up the entire
field at halftime. Allen does not cut football
players or band members, no matter the size of
the squads.

Everything is just bigger in Allen, and the
enormous size of it all must be what caused
emailers to accuse Allen of sacrificing academics
for athletics. But to the contrary, U.S. News &
World Report recently reported that Allen ranked
in the top 5 percent of all Texas public schools,
5 percent nationwide. According to the school, 85
percent of graduates go to college. Those
emailers should check the field too. After
shutting out Southlake Carroll 24-0 and starting
the season 3-0, Allen has risen to No. 17 in the
ESPN 25 Power Rankings.

With an enrollment of 5,700 students, Allen is
the second-largest high school in Texas behind
Plano East. And the Eagles seem destined to be
perennial state title contenders under head coach
Tom Westerberg, a talented offensive mind who
didn't play college football yet learned as a
student trainer under Texas A&M legend Billy
Pickard. Westerberg has led Allen to the state
playoffs eight straight seasons, including the
school's first state title in 2008. But the
Eagles are rarely blue-chip-laden, and the 2012
squad doesn't have a single prospect ranked in
the ESPN 300. At 5-foot-8, quarterback Oliver
Pierce is headed to the University of Oklahoma on
a wrestling scholarship; he is considered a
prospect for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.

The absence of superstars adds to the small-town
feel in the city, where about half the residents
commute 20 miles to downtown Dallas each day
through maddening traffic that requires at least
an hour. Mayor Steve Terrell says, "I will always
consider Allen a town." Still, it is difficult to
sell Allen as typical Main Street America when
the median household income is about $100,000,
roughly twice the national average.

In truth, though, Allen was just a farming outpost not that long ago.

Since the Eagles started playing football in
1936, they've known six homes. The second was a
weedy patch of farmland that had to be cleared of
cow dung on game days. When Williams arrived in
1975, the stands were so small and rickety that
the fans invented drive-in football, sitting in
their cars and trucks, rolling down the windows
to cheer when the Eagles scored. That prompted
the construction of a 7,000-seat stadium the
following season. As the population boomed over
the next three decades, a total of 7,000
temporary aluminum seats were eventually added,
causing the stadium to resemble the world's
largest Erector set.

Then Allen finally shifted from the Erector set
to the Palace along Exchange Parkway, and the
rest of the world assumes the laid-back appeal
has vanished. But I can attest that Allen still
is a truck-driving, barbecue-eating, boot-wearing
and C&W-listening town with more than its share
of Bubbas.

In many ways, Allen is what America used to be: a
thriving economy where the locals like to spend
money on the community, even if the skeptics see
it as excess. They would rather watch the Eagles
than the Dallas Cowboys, because the Eagles are
Allen's Team, not America's Team. And they
couldn't care less about what people are saying
in Trenton or Oshkosh.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Even 18,000 seats aren't enough:
On opening night, 3,776 fans paid to stand. Brent
Humphreys for ESPN The Magazine
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Allen High School -- It's true:
Everything is bigger in Texas. Go inside the
Eagles' stadium. Gallery at
PHOTO SIDEBAR: The varsity football roster has
89 players. Brent Humphreys for ESPN The Magazine
PHOTO SIDEBARX -- At 71 members, the Allen
Tallenettes rivals the varsity football roster.
Brent Humphreys for ESPN The Magazine
Jim Dent is a New York Times best-selling author,
who has written nine books, including Courage
Beyond The Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story.

An Allen, TX resident who I know quite well
comments on this new stadium as follows:

Below is a rant I made in April 2009 in the News
& Some Views about the lunacy of a $60 million
high school football stadium here in Allen, TX.
I was wrong about one very important thing: it
ended up being a THREE!-story press box.

#1. The Los Angeles Public School system
recently laid off 40,000 employees, more than 75%
of them teachers. In some of the poorest areas,
1/3 of the teachers in schools were fired.
Student : teacher ratios in most schools will
now be 40:1.

#2. I live in Allen, Texas, where the high
school Allen Eagles recently won the Class 5A
state football championship. Go Eagles! Allen
High School is a beautiful palace, and I mean
beautiful. While Allen is not considered an
especially "well-to-do" community (especially
when compared to next-door Plano, where it seems
that 80% of high school students have their own
vehicles, and at least half of those are late
model BMWs or tricked-out F-150s, Allen schools
aren't suffering in any sense of the word. In
the echo chamber of the state championship comes
a school bond proposition on the May 9 ballot.
It asks the taxpayers of Allen to authorize a
bond issuance in the amount of $119 million (in a
town of approx 80,000 people). This means we are
being asked to vote ourselves a tax increase of
$119 million, since bond purchasers will
eventually need to be paid back over time. I'm
no municipal finance guru, but I think that comes
to about $1,500 for every man, woman, and
child-kinda pricey. Half of the bond proposal is
for the construction of a new football stadium
for the Eagles. Pity, pity, the current stadium
only holds 7,200 permanently, with another in
7,000 leased bleachers that cost $225,000
annually. The new stadium will hold 18,000, and
it will have the "keep up with the Joneses" de
rigeur two-story press box. Yes, that's right,
any high school worth its _ _ _ _ in Texas has a
stadium with a two-story press box. There might
be temporary trailer classrooms at elementary and
middle schools, but we G _ _DAMN WELL have our
2-story press boxes! So for $59+ million, we
will get a net increase of <4,000 seats. For $59
million, we could rent the current leased
bleachers for the next 262 years-let's just call
it only 175-200 years with inflation on that
rent. The resultant tax increase to pay for the
stadium and other new facilities will "only" be
about $50 per house in the cityŠ.every year for
the rest of time. And that $50 won't even get me
a discount on season tickets. Not that I want
them-high school football in Texas is an
extraordinarily deranged vision of what is
important in education in the United States.
This ballot proposal is a lead-pipe lock for

#3. If a ballot proposal were to appear in
Allen, Texas requesting $5 million to either a)
hire 100 new teachers, or b) raise the pay for
math and science teachers to attract great
technical teaching minds to Allen, that ballot
proposal would be lucky to receive 15% of the

#4. Silly me. There is no chance in hell a
ballot proposal for hiring and paying teachers
would ever actually find its way onto the ballot.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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