Is backlash against stadium deal warranted?

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

How do you feel about putting corporate names on public school stadiums?

Opinions seemed split — viciously so — but were mostly negative in response to our online coverage of a deal over naming rights for Amherst Steele High School’s stadium. It’s been christened Mercy Health Stadium in return for $240,000 over 12 years.

“This is sad. I always knew people in Amherst only cared about money but did they have to start selling pieces of our schools too? It’s a sad day to be a resident,” wrote Amy Verhovec Keyes Young.

“Just sad! Money talks!” said David T. Troike. “So does this mean the kids will no longer need to pay to play? I doubt it! The money will go to something other than the stadium.”

Others argued the schools made a wise financial decision.

“Don’t blame the schools,” Margaret Szczodrowski wrote. “This community won’t pass a levy to build new schools. They need money wherever they can get it.” A similar perspective came from Donna Kelly: “Money has to come from somewhere — either taxes, tuition, or private sponsor. What’s the big deal?”

This is likely a debate that won’t stay confined long to Amherst.

Oberlin has long been vetting ideas for new schools, including overhauls to its stadium, and Wellington is mired in a money pit situation involving its condemned and demolished bleachers. If and when construction swings into gear, those districts may well consider doing as the Browns, the Indians, and just about every other for-profit franchise has done for decades and auction their naming rights to the highest bidder. And Wellington already has a precedent in the naming of the Patricia Lindley Center for the Performing Arts last year.

I’m of two minds.

While I have nothing against Mercy Health, I feel names of public facilities should honor community heroes, not commercial interests. I’d rather see Richard Lewis Stadium in honor of the 1979 Amherst Steele graduate who has since spent 30 years advancing the cause of public education in Ohio and served as executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association. Or Christopher Barbaro Stadium after the Amherst Marching Comets director who has taken his musicians to states the past 14 years. Or, just for fun, Jerry Lawler Stadium after the professional wrestler who grew up in Amherst.

But neither do I think the Amherst board of education made a bad decision in giving the naming rights to Mercy.

Its members took an asset (the name) that otherwise wasn’t being used and found a way to benefit students. In reality, they didn’t give anything away because signs and banners posted on the stadium won’t change how most people refer to the home of the Comets. It just puts ads for Mercy in plain sight — and we’ve already been doing that on scoreboards and baseball fences and yearbooks for a long time.

The Amherst Schools have made a string of wise financial decisions in the past few years, so what strikes me as odd is that they weren’t desperate for $240,000, which in the scale of education funding is a small amount.

The Wellington Schools, especially, would do well to pay heed. After blundering through their own bleacher and locker room problems the past year, they are looking at price tags of $200,000 and up to solve their stadium woes. Naming rights may be the only affordable route without asking taxpayers for a levy, which I doubt would have support.

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor