Gridiron gridlock?

Cary Ashby • Sep 20, 2019 at 5:00 PM

Norwalk school board members have come to one conclusion about pending improvements to the football field — the Whitney Field name is important. 

Otherwise, the board didn’t seem to reach any consensus on naming rights during its public work session Tuesday. Board members said the district would “take a hit” from the community if the Whitney Field name is completely gone.

Two donors have approached the Whitney Field Improvement Committee with a “substantial contribution” to replace the football field and track. Norwalk City Schools Superintendent George Fisk didn’t name the donors during the Sept. 10 regular board meeting or Tuesday’s work session.

The committee marketing team would like to see the athletic facility rebranded as the Warren C. Whitney Complex or the Whitney Field Complex. The Norwalk and St. Paul football teams play their home games at Whitney Field. 

“It just seems wordy,” said board member Steve Linder, who shared the same opinion at both meetings.

Board member John Lendrum said he wants the Whitney Field name to stay intact. He recommended the creation of a “contractors complex,” an area to honor the work of local contractors which would be a highlight a new entrance.

“I think it keeps it simple. It takes away the (wordiness) that Steve was talking about,” Lendrum said. “As a board member, I’d like to see it stay Whitney Field.”

Board president Lisa Wick said she has seen many scoreboards that feature the names of donors to a football field and/or stadium. Fisk, later in the discussion, said Port Clinton has done a tasteful job of recognizing many people and companies. The superintendent noted that Norwalk “would have to be creative,” given the number of potential donors.

Joe Widman, a member of the Whitney Field Improvement Committee, attended Tuesday’s work session. He said the district is an unusual position because there are two major donors. Citing the facilities at Huron, Port Clinton, Sandusky and Tiffin, Widman told the board there are many schools with turf fields that have names on them, but in the case of Whitney Field, he said there’s a preference of putting the donors’ names on the side or near the football field — not directly on it.

“Contractors Field is what I’m hearing,” Widman added. “If we keep Whitney Field, can we rename the stadium?”

None of the board members provided a direct answer.

But board vice president Beth Schnellinger said one possibility is to name the stadium or the field after a donor, while still keeping Whitney Field intact. One example is Strobel Field at Cedar Point Stadium, where Sandusky plays its home football games.

Corey Ream, director of student of operations, said practically, just because there could be multiple naming rights doesn’t mean people have to refer to all of the names at the same time. He used the examples of the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center, Fisher-Titus Learning Center and Reagan All-Sport Complex, all of which are at Norwalk High School. Ream is part of the marketing team, which has become a “steering committee” for the Whitney Field Improvement Committee.

Residents who attended the work session shared a similar perspective. They said even though the Cleveland Indians play at Progressive Field, there are many fans who still call the stadium Jacobs Field or even “The Jake.”

The proposed plan at Whitney Field is replacing the field after the current football season and then install a new track after it is used this school year. Ream has said the minimum cost for a new turf field — “with no bells and whistles” — would be about $600,000, while a new track could cost upwards of $250,000.

When asked Tuesday about the length of naming rights, Ream said it’s expected to be 20 years for the scoreboard, stadium and/or bleachers, while there would be “two turf cycles” for the track.

“I don’t know how you do all that work down there and not replace the scoreboard,” Lendrum said.

Also, he said renovating and adding bathrooms will be necessary in another phase of the Whitney Field improvement project, especially if there is any hope to host playoff football games.

“Our scoreboard is showing its age,” Ream said.