Mustangs’ ‘home’ football schedule poses financial challenges

A backhoe rested at Myers Park High School’s football stadium on Aug. 7 after it was used to clear the area where condemned visitors bleachers used to sit.

For much of the 2012 football season, the term “home game” will have a whole new meaning for Myers Park High School.

Instead of the friendly confines of their on-campus facility, Gus Purcell Stadium, the Mustangs will play four of their six home football games this fall at Memorial Stadium in uptown Charlotte.

For Myers Park, the move is rife with potential financial pitfalls, such as decreased attendance from its home fans and a smaller cut of concession-stand revenues. But Myers Park athletics director Rick Lewis said switching four games to Memorial Stadium became necessary because the visitors bleachers at Myers Park, which opened in 1951, have been condemned.

CMS annually does inspections in its stadiums that have wooden bleachers. Portions of Myers Park’s visitors-side bleachers are wooden, but that wasn’t the only problem they faced in recent months.

“We had a storm back in May that knocked a pine tree down, which landed on part of our visitors bleachers,” Lewis said. “I put a work order in to get them repaired, and then I’m assuming that the structural engineer came out to do that review of the stadium, like they do every year. They came back about two or three weeks later and said, ‘Your visitors bleachers are condemned.’

“(The bleachers) had just gotten old, just like at the other schools. They had replaced the boards and stuff like they should, but I guess the metal framing at this point has become unstable.”

Bleachers at West Charlotte and West Mecklenburg high schools also were declared unsafe, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials, and those two teams will play their home games at Waddell Language Academy – which formerly was Waddell High School until it closed last year.

Myers Park officials had hoped to have games at Waddell, but when they learned that wasn’t an option, they began doing their due diligence about the financial and logistical challenges of playing uptown. And there are plenty of them.

One of the most glaring problems will be attendance.

“We do a Friday Night Lights thing with Selwyn Elementary next door to us, where (the students) go out there with their families and then come on up to the games,” Lewis said, “and that’s several hundred tickets that we sell that we won’t have because those Selwyn parents aren’t necessarily going to pick up and (drive) to Memorial Stadium. Now I hope they do. But most likely, just logically speaking, I don’t think that will happen.

“We also have a lot of people in the neighborhood that walk over to our games. They don’t have kids at our school, but they just come over to watch the games because they live in the neighborhood. We’re going to lose those people as well.”

For the Mustang fans who do make the trip uptown, they’ll have to pay $3 for parking. At Myers Park home games, parking is free.

“Three dollars might not sound like much, but for some of our students, that can be tough to buy a game ticket and pay $3 for parking,” Lewis said.

Myers Park also will take a hit in the amount of money it brings in from sales at the concession stand.

“We’re not going to get the 100 percent that we normally do when we play at our place — the city will get a percentage of that,” Lewis said. “But it’s not a lot. We’ll do OK. We had to negotiate that a little bit, so we’re not going to take a massive hit.

“There’s going to be a little bit of a financial hit there, but CMS has assured us – and all the schools – that if we take some sort of major financial hit, they’ll be there to help us out. We’ve just got to trust that they’ll do that.”

Third-year Myers Park football coach Greg Taylor admitted that he wasn’t too thrilled when he learned of the new home-game setup, but he and his players now are determined to make the best of the situation.

“Ten or 12 years ago, I don’t think I would’ve handled it as well as I am now,” Taylor said. “But I try not to get upset about things I can’t control, and the kids are doing a great job with that, too, with this.

“But the biggest concern is the financial end of things. We’re definitely going to take a big hit from this.”

Taylor, though, said that shouldn’t supersede safety.

“Being totally honest, it probably was the right thing to do,” Taylor said. “Those bleachers were pretty old. Last year, we played Independence in a packed house, and those people were jumping up and down on those (visitors) bleachers. A thought came through my mind, and I was worried for a moment. You kind of fear for folks’ safety.”

Myers Park’s visitors bleachers already have been taken out of the stadium, and the school is awaiting the arrival of 387 temporary seats – a far cry from the 1,500 seating capacity of the bleachers that were removed. The temporary seats aren’t enough to accommodate fans for some of the Mustangs’ biggest home games against Southwestern 4A conference opponents Butler, South Mecklenburg and Ardrey Kell.

Fortunately, though, Myers Park gets to ease its way into its new home-away-from-home digs. The Mustangs open the season on Friday, Aug. 17, in an on-campus home game against Garinger, which traditionally does not generate a large number of fans on the visitors side. The same goes for the Mustangs’ second home game, an on-campus affair with Olympic on Thursday, Aug. 30.

The first home game at Memorial Stadium takes place on Sept. 7, when the Mustangs welcome North Mecklenburg High. Although North Meck is a non-conference foe, Lewis said that game has to be played uptown.

“That North game is actually a doubleheader because it’s the weekend after the (Democratic National Convention), so we’ll play a JV game at 4 (p.m.) and a varsity game at 7,” Lewis said. “Having that issue, we obviously thought there’d be more than 387 on (the visitors) side.”

The Mustangs’ other Memorial Stadium games are Sept. 14 against Butler, Sept. 28 against Ardrey Kell and Oct. 12 versus rival South Meck, with the latter being the Senior Night contest.

Although Myers Park officials learned back in May that they’d have to move games, they informed players and parents of the new home schedule on Aug. 6 during an annual meeting to go over details for the upcoming season.

“We’d kept it quiet because we didn’t know until last week what kind of concessions we’d have to make,” Lewis said. “They took it well. Really, it’s kind of a rallying cry. We’ve said, ‘Look, we’re going to move our games down there. We can do this for one year. Let’s rally behind our guys, let’s go support them.’

“It was really very, very positive the way it was received by the parents and the players.”

But what about the possibility of losing homefield advantage? Taylor said that’s a legitimate concern, but it’s also something he isn’t going to allow to dominate his players’ thoughts.

“The last time I was at Memorial Stadium, the field was 100 yards long and 53 yards wide – just like Myers Park,” the coach said. “So I’m telling our guys, ‘Just put the ball down and let’s go play.’

“Sure, it’ll be different having to have homecoming and Senior Night there, but hopefully, we’ll have enough success there and become comfortable enough playing there that it becomes a second home for us.”

C. Jemal Horton,

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