UPDATES WITH REACTION FROM FOOTBALL COACHES STACEY BALLEW (BYRD), ADAM KIRBY (SHREVE)
By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
Lee Hedges Stadium — one of Shreveport’s most-used facilities for athletic and other events — will likely be out of service through the rest of the fall sports seasons.
That means all high school football games, as well as soccer and lacrosse matches, are being moved to various locations. The decision to close Lee Hedges was made Thursday, during a meeting of Caddo Parish Schools’ Building and Grounds committee.
“We were looking around and everything was going well,” Caddo Parish Schools athletic director Anthony Tisdale told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal. “We were feeling good…Yesterday, the bottom fell out.”
Renovations to increase the size of locker rooms, number of restrooms, and create an area for athletic trainers on both sides of the stadium was supposed to start shortly after track and field season in May. However, that work was delayed.
“We discovered there were some issues — some abatement that needed to happen before construction could happen,” Tisdale said. “(Workers) went into one of the boiler rooms and discovered that there was asbestos in there. That needs to be abated before anything could happen — not just on the home side of the stadium, but on the visiting side of the stadium. Once that is exposed, you have to get a licensed contractor to go and conduct a removal.”
The two schools most affected by the stadium’s closure are Captain Shreve and Byrd, which play their homes football games at Lee Hedges. Thursday, Tisdale met with Independence Stadium officials to check the availability of that facility. As a result, all but two of Shreve and Byrd’s home games will be played at Independence Stadium. The other two games for each school will be played in Jerry Burton Stadium at Northwood High School.
Also, Huntington and Southwood will each play one game at either Independence Stadium or Northwood.
“We knew we were going to miss our scrimmage and jamboree due to the construction, so we were prepared for that,” second-year Shreve head coach Adam Kirby told the Journal. “But to find out we are going to miss our whole season at Lee Hedges, I would say (the news) came out of the blue. But it’s hard to get mad at anything when it’s unavoidable. You’ve just got to make the best of your situation. I talked to our kids about not making any excuses. We’re still expected to play, play hard, and play well. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
“It’s not something we want to do,” Byrd head football coach Stacey Ballew told the Journal. “It’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate for the kids. We wish that construction was complete, but it’s not. The last few years in education and athletics, you’ve had to kind of go with the flow. You have instances and problems that come up and you adapt the best you can.”
Unlike Captain Shreve players who make the short walk from the school to the stadium, Byrd players get on a bus each week, no matter where they are playing. The Yellow Jackets’ first home game Sept. 8 against Huntington was slated for Lee Hedges Stadium.
“That’s our home stadium,” Ballew said. “We feel at home there. But Independence (Stadium) is not a big change for us. Playing at Northwood will be something new. In over 20 years of coaching here, I don’t think we’ve ever played at Northwood — not that I can remember. That will definitely be something new for the staff and the kids. But we will adapt.”
A bigger issue for Ballew is how his school’s “gate” will be affected. The more people who attend a Byrd home game, the more money the school makes.
“That is a concern,” Ballew said. “We usually have a lot of support (at the games). Traditionally, we have more support at Lee Hedges than anywhere else that we’ve played. That’s unfortunate as far as game income for the schools — not only Byrd, but all the schools that are having to change. And it’s an inconvenience for the fans. The fans enjoy going to Lee Hedges, and going to the restaurants around Lee Hedges, and being close to their home school and where they live. Traveling is going to be different for them as well, and we’re probably going to lose some attendance. I hope everybody still comes out and supports these young men.”
Shreve was scheduled to open the season Aug. 31 at Lee Hedges against Loyola. Most of Kirby’s time today — instead of working on X’s and O’s — is being spent working on logistics.
“Get 12 games worth of buses and meals now on the road instead of delivered to the school and change up what time you’re leaving and things of that nature. The big thing right now is getting buses to take us where we need to be.”
Athletic events aren’t the only events which will have to find a new home.
“Lee Hedges is a highly used facility,” Tisdale said. “There’s a lot of traffic through there, from cheerleading contests to band events to 5K walks. We’re going to have to look and see where those events can be moved. We don’t want to cancel anything, so we’re just going to have to try and be creative in how we host those things…. The liability is just tremendous for the district and for the contractor.”
The renovations are part of a $3 million upgrade plan announced last September, as part of an agreement with Willis-Knighton Health System.
— Contributions to this story by Journal team members Lee Hiller, JJ Marshall, Jerry Byrd and Teddy Allen