Board approves selling names of athletic fields

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Committee member James Handy storms out of the committee meeting following a discussion on the selling of naming rights to the Lewiston High School athletic facilities on Monday evening. From left are committee members Linda Scott, Paul St. Pierre, Paul Dumont, Chairman Tom Shannon, Superintendent Bill Webster and Handy. 

LEWISTON — With strong vocal opposition from Jim Handy, who stormed out of the meeting, the School Committee Monday approved a fundraising plan to build a bigger and better community athletic complex by selling the naming rights of the fields, the concession building and even bricks on a wall.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Committee member James Handy casts the lone vote against giving a group of local sports supporters permission to raise money by selling the rights to the names of Lewiston High School's athletic fields at the School Committee meeting on Monday. From left are committee members Bob Connors, Linda Scott, Paul St. Pierre, Paul Dumont, Chairman Tom Shannon, Superintendent Bill Webster, Handy, Sonia Taylor and Elizabeth Dube. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Committee member Paul Dumont holds up a bottle of water Monday night while stating that he is in favor of selling the naming rights, perhaps to a company that bottles water, to the Lewiston High School athletic facilities. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Committee member Sonia Taylor speaks Monday night in favor of selling the naming rights to the Lewiston High School athletic facilities.

The name-that-field fundraising plan to improve Franklin Pasture at Lewiston High School now goes to the Lewiston City Council.

The city, not the School Department, owns the athletic fields, tennis courts and track that make up Franklin Pasture. Under the plan, if someone pays $750,000, Franklin Pasture could be called something else. As proposed, only the name of the Don Roux football field is not for sale and would remain the Roux field.

Selling the rights to names is how the Lewiston Athletic Foundation Trustees, a group of local sports supporters, educators, city leaders and business people propose to build a new $3.8 million complex without cost to taxpayers.

School Committee veteran and former chairman Handy said he was opposed and that the school board lacks authority to do anything about inappropriate advertising.

Giving permission to a group not elected by citizens, Handy said, means they could end up with a Hollywood Slots swim team or an Oxford Casino track field. “They may not have a problem with Trojan Condoms.”

Handy said he doesn't want students “to be raised in a school where every inch of flat surface ends up being advertising, including space on public buildings sold to the highest bidder,” he said. “This corporatizes and professionalizes high school sports,” creating more pressure for teams to win to justify corporate investments.

To improve fields there should be a legitimate capital campaign “that does not include the selling of our schools. Once we've opened that door, it's free game.”

Other committee members disagreed.

Paul Dumont said no one wants to see sports facilities named after casinos. “That's a given.” But while local company Federal Distributors pushes beer, "they also push Gatorade and water.”

Dumont warned against being too picky about accepting corporate money. “If they want to give us money, hey, I'm right here, man. Help me out.”

Committee member Sonia Taylor said businesses are a part of the community. “We will not have the facility we need for sports if we don't go in this direction,” Taylor said. “The taxpayers don't want to have to pay more and more. ... For us to snub our noses at them is ridiculous.”

Taylor said she understands concerns about advertising. Companies “are the ones with the money.”

Handy dismissed those arguments as faulty.

“Mr. Dumont is willing to take money from anyone,” he said. And Taylor would “hold hands with the devil.” Committee members were not considering the impact on children, the creation of mixed messages, and that they may lack the ability to prevent unwanted branding or advertising.

“We're selling our kids. We're selling our teams,” Handy said, growing emotional. “Schools should not be corporatized, commercialized.”

Handy challenged Dumont to explain what control the committee would have on advertising. Dumont responded, but did not answer to Handy's satisfaction. Handy asked Dumont the question again.

Chairman Tom Shannon broke in and told Handy he was out or order. “You asked your question. He said it was his last word!”

As Shannon called for a vote, Handy packed up his papers and put away his laptop computer.

The vote was 8-1 with Handy voting against. Handy stood up and told Shannon he's never been cut off before like that. “I resent that you control this committee inappropriately. Therefore, I cannot participate in your power structure,” he said as he angrily left the room.

After the vote, Lewiston High School Athletic Director Jason Fuller said he was excited with the prospect of moving forward with raising money for bigger and better fields.

“It's something for our community. You've got to invest in the community to get a return.” The fields will benefit everyone in the city, not just high school students, he said.

The three people who appoint members of the Lewiston Athletic Foundation trustees are Fuller, the high school principal and the city of Lewiston recreation director.

Fuller said he understands concerns about inappropriate branding and advertising. Handy “has the best intention of our kids.” Fuller said he doesn't see inappropriate advertising, such as naming a field after a casino, happening.

Those involved “have a good understanding of what's good for our kids. I'm going to try to do the best thing for our kids in our community and give them the right messages.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

MARC A JALBERT's picture

My question?

Is a new $3.8 million complex a want, or a need?

I would only further submit that in these times, this isn't the time.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

My concern is that selling

My concern is that selling the rights to advertisement is just a gimmick or short-term solution to justify the new sports field.

What happens in the future if private money fails to keep up with expenses?

Ultimately the responsibility will fall back to the taxpayers who don’t want more taxes.

Will the city be willing to shut the field down before pushing new expense on the taxpayer?

 's picture

Chairperson

Personally, I hate being on committees where the chairperson does not maintain order. Seems to me the chair was doing his job in this situation, reigning in an out of order board member. Not the kind of behavior I'd expect from someone who's served on the school committee and in the Senate and House. I did get a kick out of the picture of Handy's vote. Him doing the kindergarten style posture, all other board members except the chair trying to look busy and avoiding eye contact.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

What we value

People tend to name things after what they value. In this country it is often war heroes, politicians and people who have served their community in some way. In Europe, it is often royalty, writers, scientists and artists. We also have a history of selling names. Here, in Lewiston, for example, we have Bates College so named after a large donation and we had a school called Edward Little so named after a donation of land and money. So selling the name of a ballfield would not be unprecedented . My grandsons have played on teams with business names on their shirts and at the Colisee which also sold the rights to its name. Selling the rights to the name probably is right in line with what we value and would give the kids a nice place to play. Although, it might be more inspiring to the kids to name it after a hero.

 's picture

I shouldn't laugh at this,

I shouldn't laugh at this, but what a childish reaction from an "adult". There should never be an excuse for anyone to walk out of a meeting unless there is a possibility for a physical confrontation.

There are plenty of potential Lewiston based companies that could possibly be sponsors. Gendron, Geiger, Roopers, St. Laurent & Sons, etc... Would these companies shell out that type of cash for naming rights, I don't know. Could also coax Bates College into naming it after, oh I don't know, Benjamin Bates. Yes, there is Bates College and Bates St., but anyone that truly knows Lewiston history knows he deserves more then that. Do I think they would, no. Do I think all the said options are possibilities, yes. Could possibly even get banks to get involved too. Androscoggin Bank (highly doubt it since they have the Colisee), Rainbow Federal Credit Union, Auburn Savings (that would be rather ironic lol), just to name a few. All of these option while promoting local business and keeping the name of the fields local. Another key thing it doesn't involve any type of adult beverage and doesn't involve any casino.

David to answer your casino question. Answers simple we are trying to have our field sponsored Oxford Hills is not. Plus think about it, they'd be naming the athletic fields in the second largest city in the state which plays teams within easy driving distance to the casino (Auburn, Mt. Blue, Mt. Ararat, Brunswick, etc...)

David Pinkham's picture

School Committee Leadership

Jimmy, grow up. Maine's academic stature is at the bottom of the list, just above Mississippi and Arkansas. Ineffective teachers remain in the classroom, while frustration grows among new teachers, whose benefits erode slowly year after year. Students don't find their schoolwork challenging. The minority with behavioral issues take up a majority of valuable instruction time. Gifted and Talented students are lulled into a false sense of security regarding their academic future. Average students are woefully unprepared for the rigors of even Community College. Of those Mainers who begin a higher education at the land grant colleges, fifty percent fail to graduate. Of those who do get a degree, well over twenty percent are unemployed. And you storm out of a meeting because Lewiston HS football players might eventually wear uniforms that say Federal Distributors?? That's the issue where, by gosh, you've had enough??

Athletics should be recognized for exactly what it is, a prime component of the entertainment complex; a business. Nothing wrong with that, it's merely a fact that demands recognition. Ask yourself this; What percentage of Maine students go on to be professional athletes? (An industry, by the way, that enjoys corporate sponsorship in the form of advertising and endorsement revenue for both the team and the individual!) And what percentage of school budgets go to fund these extracurricular activities? Is that cost/benefit ratio valid and sustainable? Those are questions that should go into any decision on sponsorship of fields, and quite frankly, support for team sports in general. Auburn's High School doesn't even feature a cafeteria, but a prime replacement criterion is adequate space for athletic fields??!! I suppose it makes sense; at least unemployed youth will have a place to organize a touch football game!

This is Maine, Mr. Handy, not Wisconsin. You do not get your way but running away and refusing to discuss viable, but uncomfortable economic options.

David  Cote's picture

Two things...

First off, a message to Mr. Handy... As a School Committee member, and a person who is supposed to be setting an example for the youth he is supposed to help in nuturing, I find it sad and childish that he would choose to walk out of a session in such a manner. I respect his opinion on this subject, and his passion, however, he needs to find a more productive and acceptible way of expression. Secondly, although I can understand Mr. Handy's concerns, I find corporate sponsorship is these days a neccessary evil of sorts. My concern is how a corporation may aspire to have a more controlling type of relationship within such a transaction. But I think that fear is minimal. Mr Handy's contention as to the type of business desiring to sponsor doesn't make sense. Why would casinos in other school districts be interested in having its name on an athletic field in Lewiston? And what of the respectible businesses in town that may desire to sponsor? There are a number of businesses in Lewiston whose name would fit well with the words "field" or "park" named after them. Then there's the very reason why this idea was introduced in the first place...to raise much needed funds to aid in school programs. Isn't that what a town populace wants to see from corporate leaders? Involvement? Investing in the youth of today and providing for that youth the tools to help them grow and become our leaders of tomorrow? Mr Handy needs to set the bar. He needs to reconnect with fellow committee members, apologize for his immature action and sit down to hash out his differences. That is what we tell our kids to do, and as a school committee member, Mr. Handy should never lose sight of that.

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