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Does Fort Mill really need a second football stadium?

FORT MILL -- You are a teenager, and your older brother has an almost-new car. He drives it a handful of times a year. The rest of the time, it sits. Shiny and idle.

Then, you reach driving age, and you deserve a nice new car that your parents pay for, right?

Wrong. The old man would tell you to share the existing car with your brother. Or walk.

But a schools committee in Fort Mill is recommending that you, the people who pay the taxes -- the parents -- buy a new car that will be driven just a few times a year. That car is an $8.7 million football stadium for Nation Ford High School that opens in August.

Fort Mill High School, a few miles away, already has a beautiful stadium used just a handful of times each year.

The committee of parents, administrators and teachers recommends the school board ask voters to approve $98 million in bonds. About $89 million for three schools for the fastest- growing district in the state and a couple of auxiliary gyms so students aren't tripping over each other during dodge ball.

An undeniable need.

Then there is the stadium.

A want.

Michael Johnson, a Fort Mill school board member and driving force behind two straight years in Fort Mill without a tax increase, said his gut reaction to the committee's recommendation about the stadium was it looks like a want.

The board was scheduled to meet tonight to talk about, but not vote on, the proposal, Johnson said. The district canceled the meeting late Wednesday afternoon, saying in a release a majority of the seven-member board could not attend.

Yet, Johnson said he hasn't decided how he will handle the recommendation because he only saw the recommendation Wednesday. He wants to hear about the stadium first, talk with proponents and opponents. He wants to be accountable to parents, students and taxpayers all at the same time.

Academics must always come first, Johnson said.

"What is (an) inconvenience is least important," he added.

Any notion that Nation Ford won't have a home-field advantage, or fan support, if the team doesn't play on campus is not just moaning about perceived inconvenience; it is silly.

Rock Hill had two high schools for 35 years. Neither had a campus stadium. And after all those state championships and crowds that have topped 10,000 fans, they still don't.

I don't think the state title trophies say in fine print: "Won despite home games played off campus."

South Pointe High School was built in Rock Hill's district and received a brand-new stadium that cost millions. Maybe there wasn't enough room for three teams in one stadium, but Richland County for years had three high school teams play in one stadium. I sure hope that new South Pointe stadium is shiny in its hundreds of days of emptiness each year.

I live in the Fort Mill district. I go to Fort Mill High football games, have for years, but will now go to Nation Ford games. Soon, my daughters will attend that new high school. They might march in the band.

So what?

Anybody, me included, can cheer just as loud for Nation Ford in the existing stadium at Fort Mill High.

Thousands of new families have made Fort Mill home -- the reason why the new school was built in the first place -- because of an earned reputation for academic achievement. Fort Mill schools are perceived as tops. Fort Mill's excellence is gauged in classrooms, not on the gridiron.

The unanimous committee considered but didn't choose separating athletic bond items on the proposed ballot because voters might think those facilities are not as important as the school buildings.

What? That is exactly what voters do: Say what is important. Decide what is a need and what is a want.

Johnson knows York County last year had a vote on a $75 million bond proposal. That boondoggle paired needs -- a justice center and services for the eastern part of the county -- with wants: Money for McCelvey Center, Historic Brattonsville and more.

The county didn't just ask for an unneeded new car, they wanted a Lexus and a Hummer, with free gas thrown in.

Of course, that proposal went down in flames.

"They asked for too much fluff," Johnson said in an understatement.

Even proponents of that bond package -- translation: tax increase -- agreed afterward that bundling perceived needs with obvious wants led to voters screaming, "Get lost!"

Will the Fort Mill school board ask anybody, each other maybe, "Is a bond proposal that could lose because of wants worth sacrificing needs?"

Parents ask each other, every day, do we need or want? Savvy parents buy what they need. Stupid parents listen to the kid who wants the new car, then watch the repo man drive away.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Should the Fort Mill school district build a stadium for Nation Ford High School? Go to http://community.heraldonline.com to take part in our poll.

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