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Monday, August 6, 2012

Residents Protest New Science Bowl Stadium

Louisiana (Ironee News Wire,)--Just when you thought it was going to be another dull back-to-school season, some residents of Lowgrade Louisiana have startled the High School world by rising up in protest against the proposed new Science Stadium.  According to Stum Dullard, Lowgrade's fourth-term School Board member, it was "just the right time to stand up against this sort of foolishness."
  This sort of foolishness being a $111.2 million stadium.  Next month, in this upper middle class suburb, ground will be broken on a modern, whiz-bang, 10,000-seat facility that will include a fully encircled grandstand, a 4DTV scoreboard, six restrooms and as many concession stands . It is scheduled to be ready for use by the spring Science Bowl Season.
  "There's nothing foolish about it," Lowgrade Principal Thurston Solly says. "The Science team has done a great job of bringing in revenue to our cash-strapped budget.  To focus on the fact that this money is being spent on our Science Program is missing the point.  The Brain Surgeons are more than just a bunch of guys out there having fun while playing games.  This is tough competition, they work very hard.  And as much as ten or fifteen per cent of the revenue they generate is put back into the school."

 Solly is technically correct.  Last year, ten and a half per cent of the excess revenue from all Brain Surgeon ticket sales and concession sales went into the High School's general fund.  This did not include a percentage of monies raised by the parent run Lab-Boosters Club, which has no School Board oversight.  Though the numbers are undisclosed, a former office holder from the Lab-Boosters says prior years have seen as much as $11.9 million raised during a full school year.  With last year's State Championship run, that number is expected to easily pass the $15 million mark.
  Olga Wistchky, a School Board member for over forty years (her first year was 1981), thinks Dullard has a valid point.
  "How do we look our kids in the eye and tell them we are doing our best to provide them with a full education when we have this imbalance in our priorities?  Is Science a good thing?  It can be.  But not if it teaches kids that you can become a star at the Science Bowl while you ignore the importance of healthy exercise.  The numbers of kids trying out for sports has dropped dramatically.  Before you know it, our kids will just be little weaklings with jelly for muscles.  Is that what this town wants?  Jelly Kids?"

  Though the argument is hardly new, it is an appropriate debate to revisit with the looming expenses of the new stadium project.  Melvin Twoless, the City Engineer who chaired the Stadium Building Committee, disagrees, saying the 100 million plus price tag will not be a burden to the community.
  "The project has been on the books for a number of years and a majority of people in this Parish voted for the bond . We look forward to completing this project in time for the first game of the season."
  Twoless failed to mention that the bond passed by the slimmest margin ever in a vote over a bond issue for any Parish in all of Louisiana.
  But a new stadium is hardly the issue.  No one will deny that it will be used to its fullest potential.  The current stadium, which only seats 6,000, has been overfilled for years.  One of the side benefits of the project is the extra parking lots being installed.  Residents in this Science-crazed town have been parking in yards and ditches as far as six blocks away from the school.  The new parking lots, fully paved with extensive lighting, will be a welcome sight to Brain Surgeon fans.
  The new project may also just be another version of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.  Some of Lowgrade's biggest rivals have recently built new, state-of-the-art complexes.  River Down's Astronauts, Saint Euclid's Supercolliders, and Chipaltoulouskis' Medicine Men have all seen increased revenue from their new homes.  (The Medicine Men's success is particularly inspiring, considering the public relations battle they endured to keep their traditional mascot in the face of stiff PC opposition.)
  Principal Solly also pointed out that the stadium benefits more than just the Science Team.
  "As we've seen at River Down, these new complexes can be used for Quiz Bowl, Spelling Bees, and even the occasional Chess competition.  It's really a win-win for the whole school."


 Not so fast, says Dullard.  "All of those activities still point right back to academics, except maybe the Chess Club, but that's not really a sport either, so I don't know where they fall into.  But all this focus on academics is embarrassing.  Not every kid can stand in the middle of an arena and recite names off the Periodic Chart.  Heck, I couldn't name four of them.  Can my kid help it that I didn't pass down the genes needed to get him a spot on the Brain Surgeons?  What am I supposed to do, hire a tutor for him and tell him to forget about sprinting?  What's he suppose to do later in life when he suddenly finds himself being chased by an alligator?  Should he shout out the definition of mitosis?"
  The real question Lowgrader's have to ask themselves is why so much interest in the Science team?  Why do they spend $40 a ticket every Friday night to see their kids flex their scientific prowess?  Why cough up $35 for a soda and a little paper bowl full of nachos and processed liquid cheese composite?  How can an entire community gather once a week to deify kids who can spout the latest mathematical theorems under the pressure of overflowing stands and local television cameras?  Are these not the same kids who used to corner the dumb kids behind the cafeteria at lunch and make them recite their times' tables?  I can assure you even this reporter can remember the shame from being caught more than once by the Spelling Jocks.  And for the record, while I know how to spell immolate now, I couldn't back then, certainly not with an imminent wedgie waiting for me if I got it wrong.
  "It's not just about the kids who are simply at school to pick up an average education balanced with a solid physical background," says Coach Rip Backer, one of the few teachers at the school willing to question the Science program.  "I'm really concerned about many of the Science team members who have been lied to, who have been told they stand a chance at getting into college, make it on a college team like LSU's National Championship team.  Even if they get a shot at playing for the Electrons, they'll never make it to the professional level where they can actually make a living at it.  The best they can hope for is to end up as a doctor, or a physicist at someplace like JPL.  And who wants to be stuck in that kind of work?  I've talked with so many former students who just wish they learned to strengthen their bodies enough to handle hard labor.  The competition out there for jobs that use your brain is getting out of hand.  At least my kids, the ones ignored by the Science department, the ones who have to endure the embarrassment of spending their time playing football and soccer, at least they're fit enough to handle a job digging ditches or swimming pools.  I can at least feel like we didn't fail them, though their numbers are getting smaller every year."
  Whether you agree with Principal Solly or School Board member Dullard, you can bet that this renewed protest will force us to look at Science programs under a microscope, and we'll be forced to use the scientific method to analyze just what our priorities should be.
  And as any Brain Surgeon can tell you, you need data before you can make a complete analysis. 
  • The cost of the stadium will exceed the total cost spent on repairs and upkeep for the school over the past twenty years.
  • Lowgraders have refused to pass a bond for repairs to the local elementary school's playground, where monkey-bars and slides have rusted beyond usability. 
  • The money for the project raised to this point, according to the School Board's own by-laws, cannot be used for sports of any kind.  The Sports budget was separated from the Education budget decades ago when sports like football and basketball ruled the campus.  At that time sports programs were happy to keep their own money for themselves. 
  • The public stigma of kids who spend too much time exercising and engaging in physical activity cannot be ignored.  Some parents who have pushed their children into such a lifestyle have been called out as unfit to raise a child in today's world.  Though no intervention has actively taken place, Social Services has begun to collect data on this issue.
  •   No one is actually suggesting we rearrange our priorities and start pushing kids to succeed physically instead of academically; it would be political suicide for any member of the School Board.  But while a reasoned call for some balance might not be politically destructive, it could certainly be frustrating for members like Dullard who have to interact with Brain Surgeon fans in the community on a daily basis.
      "Yes, a few of my customers have voiced their displeasure with my stance," he admits.  "But I think this is too important for me to worry about the bottom line.  I think the worse thing that could happen would be if everyone just ignored me.  Treated me like the local crank, and just kept on like I hadn't said anything.  That would be worse."
      "Oh, I think he means well," Solly told me in a follow-up interview.  "Stum's an old friend.  He and I go way back, and we'll remain friends.  He just fails to understand that the stadium will be a benefit for the entire community.  And perhaps he even forgets that in his time, he could prove a theorum faster than any of us in District play."

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