FORT MILL -- Nation Ford High's sophomore quarterback Mitchell Starnes scored the school's first touchdown last fall. He'd like to see another first before he graduates -- the first Nation Ford football team to play in a new, 5,000-seat stadium.
Voters in the Fort Mill school district will make that call Tuesday in a bond referendum to decide whether the district can borrow money to buy land, build new schools and make improvements to existing ones. The nearly $96 million bond package will be presented in two parts; voters can cast ballots on either or both. One question asks for $87.25 million to buy future campus sites and build three more schools. The other question seeks $8.718 million for facilities upgrades, including $5 million to build a Nation Ford stadium -- including restrooms and concession stands -- comparable to Bob Jones Stadium at Fort Mill High.
That question also seeks approval for two $1.8 million auxiliary gyms, one at each high school.
"It would be real disappointing if it doesn't pass," Starnes said. "Everybody wants to have their own field. Everybody wants to have their own stadium to look back on and say, 'That is where I played.'"
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Some supporters of the bond referendum say having the stadium and gyms is just as important as the new schools included in the other bond question.
"The stadium is needed not just for right now but for the future generations," said Paul Simpson, Nation Ford's athletic booster club president.
Others consider it an extravagance. Resident Phillip Mueller says he's voting "no" on both questions.
Mueller, who has a granddaughter entering the school system in August, said he is voting no not because he is against education but because he wants to send a message to developers. Voting "no" is "the only key we have to stop this rapid growth and development," Mueller said. "Developments equal the need for more schools. I don't want us to become an Atlanta-type suburb. There isn't much of an end to it, and I see this is the only way to stop it."
Nation Ford's varsity football team plays its home games at Bob Jones Stadium at Fort Mill High. The district put up signs and painted sections of the stadium black and red to give the Falcons the feeling of home. But some football players say it didn't feel that way.
"I feel like I never had a home game because we were on the bus every Friday," said junior linebacker Lance Jacobs.
Preparing for varsity games was tough for the team, coaches, athletic trainers, booster club members, parents, staff and volunteers. Getting the team to games includes busing a long list of equipment to Fort Mill High.
"We are overusing what we have," said Brian Turner, Nation Ford's athletic director. "Fort Mill's stadium can't handle all those games."
The two schools' booster clubs have to share concession stands and storage space.
Ron Kirby of Tega Cay -- a former city councilman and member of the Keep Our Schools Strong pro-bond committee -- said people don't realize a new stadium would be used by more than just the football team.
"There are a lot of people who think it's just a football stadium, but it's about the band and other things as well," Kirby said.
Built in 1987, Bob Jones Stadium has been renovated. Work was done on decaying sections of the stands, and the field was re-sodded two years ago at a cost $35,000.
Over time, the wear and tear on the field caused by two schools' use will be costly, officials say.
If growth continues -- hundreds of new students enter Fort Mill schools each year -- district officials have talked about a third high school in a few years. Could all three use the Fort Mill High facilities?
"It would not be an optimal situation," said Assistant Superintendent Chuck Epps.
Having its own stadium would instill a sense of community at Nation Ford, especially in three to four years, after those who went to Fort Mill High before transferring to Nation Ford when it opened in 2007 are gone, bond supporters say.
"It did feel like home for most students because they attended Fort Mill (at first), and going to Bob Jones is great. But for future generations, it would be nice to have their own stadium," Simpson said.
A stadium isn't the only thing Nation Ford lacks, others say.
"It's not just about bleachers," Turner said. "We don't have restrooms, locker rooms, we don't even have power."
There are a handful of portable toilets behind the practice field at Nation Ford. There are no concessions for several spring and fall sports. Portable toilets are in place because the athletic fields are so far away from the school.
Fort Mill isn't the first school district to face this issue. Several schools in Columbia have shared stadiums. In the Richland Two School District, four high schools share two stadiums. Ridge View High School shares a stadium with Blythewood High School on Blythewood's campus, and Spring Valley High and Richland-Northeast High School share a stadium at Spring Valley.
Rock Hill and Northwestern share District Three Stadium, though it is in a neutral location on Cherry Road.