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Linden High supporters angry over field dispute



 

LINDEN | Parents and supporters of Linden High School football are up in arms over a decision still without resolution.

The Linden football team remains today without a home football field. After more than three decades hosting games at Linden Athletic Field, the possibility remaining that a change of venue could be permanent for the Patriots.

At Monday’s Linden Board of Education meeting, the decision of whether Linden would continue to play out of town or agree to terms with the Linden Athletic Association to play at Linden Athletic Field was not made. The time and date for making the decision was not agreed upon, either.

The Linden Athletic Association announced last week — four days from the start of the football season — it would increase the $500-per-game rate that had been in place for nearly a decade to nearly double that cost.

Newly appointed Linden Athletic Association President Hale Smith said the increase in fees is to help offset costs of maintenance and upkeep of the field. Smith said several changes were made to the aesthetics of the field, including removing the dilapidated visitors’ bleachers that he said were uninsurable.

The Linden Athletic Association bought the field from the city in 1974 for $250, according to Marengo County records. Before 1974, Linden had segregated high schools. Linden High School was comprised entirely of whites and George P. Austin was for blacks. Following desegregation, George P. Austin closed and Linden High School integrated. Soon after, Marengo Academy was formed.

Smith, a Marengo Academy graduate, took over the Linden Athletic Association three weeks ago. He and the three other association members — all white men — have made a series of sweeping changes since.

Linden City Attorney Woody Dinning said the possibility of raising the funds requested by Smith would be “difficult, if not impossible, to do.”

Last Friday, Linden was forced to give up a home date with Central, instead traveling 90 minutes to Tuscaloosa for the season opener. Linden City Schools could not approve the new rate increase in time for the game and did not want to play on a field without visitors’ bleachers.

Just two years ago, a fight broke out during Linden’s playoff game with Maplesville. A lawsuit was subsequently filed. Linden Police Chief Scott McClure said the damage from the fight could have been much worse had the fans not been separated.

Among Smith and several Linden City Schools officials, a plan for the city to offset the cost and supply visitors’ bleachers was all but agreed upon before Linden supporters shouted down the proposed agreement.

“This seems like a temporary solution to a permanent problem,” said Linden graduate Bobby Jackson, pointing out the perceived inequality between the predominantly white private school, Marengo Academy, and the predominantly black public school, Linden High. “We’ve been in this situation for 30 years or more. We should have our own facility.

“Our kids have been treated like they’re second class.”

In front of more than 60 angry Linden High School supporters, the Linden Board of Education heard the cries of help like those Jackson voiced and chose to delay making a decision. A groan of disapproval was blurted out from the crowd that packed the meeting room, stretching around the table and out the door, as board member Eunice Jones announced the board will consider having a meeting, “really soon.”

“The root of the situation is pretty evil,” said Ronald Bright, a Linden graduate with two kids enrolled at the high school. “Linden has been racially divided since I got here.”

While Linden hit the road in the opening week of high school football, neighboring Marengo Academy stayed home, hosting Montgomery’s Hooper Academy at Linden Athletic Field on Friday night. Marengo Academy head coach and athletic director Robby James paid the Linden Athletic Association $500 for each of his five scheduled home games on Tuesday, with the expectation that fees might increase slightly. The Tuscaloosa News obtained a copy of the $2,500 check hours before the Board of Education meeting.

Following the meeting Monday night, James learned the Linden Athletic Association would seek $6,500 from Marengo Academy if Linden came into agreement to use the field. If Linden did not, Margeno would be forced to pay the full estimated cost of $13,000.

James was somewhat surprised by the news, saying he hoped Linden would use the field to help offset costs.

“I am not sure if there’s money in our budget for something like that,” James said. “We would have to consider fund raising or some other option.”

James said he wasn’t sure of another field Marengo Academy could use, if needed.

For his part, Linden head coach Andro Williams did his best to stay out of the fray, choosing instead to focus on what he could control.

“My job is mainly to get the kids ready to play and not worry about where the field is,” Williams said, deferring any comment on the situation to school administrators. “That’s still considered home for us. ... They would like for it to be home, but at the end of the day we’re going to line up where we need to play.”

Reach Alex Scarborough at alex.scarborough@tuscaloosanews.comor 205-722-0193.