I didn’t need eight years of George W. Bush or Rick Perry’s brief dalliance with the Oval Office to know that Texas is a very different place. Texans have long had a way of making me scratch my head. I’d enumerate all of those ways here, but like Perry, I’d undoubtedly lose track after offering, say, Roger Clemens, or maybe . . .
Now, where was I? Have I misremembered something?
Oh, yes, high school football.
The affluent city of Allen, Texas, about a half-hour drive north of Dallas, three weeks ago opened its sparkling new high school football stadium.
Now, we all know you don’t get a lot for $59.6 million these days (maybe a back-of-the-rotation starter?), but AHS got itself an XXL bootful of wonderful with its new stadium, which includes 18,000 seats, a massive HD video board (75 feet by 45 feet), a bunch of bathrooms and concessions stands, not to mention adjoining practice space for the school’s golf and wrestling teams.
All of it fits tidily on a 72-acre parcel. Typical of Texas, money and space in Allen are bountiful, if not boundless, and Eagle Stadium certainly lives up to the endless possibilities of all that. By opening night, there were more than 8,000 season ticket-holders and a half-dozen corporate sponsorships signed on at $35,000 per year. Not anything we’d see here in the Hockomock League.
In a number of news reports over the last few weeks, a school district spokesman repeatedly made it clear that Allen didn’t expect to make back its money on the project. To be fair here, the eye-popping price tag was folded into a $119 million bond package, approved by 63 percent of voters in 2009, which the town also used to build an arts center and a service center for a combined $60 million.
So, they’re not just about football in Allen, no way, uh-uh, even if it might have seemed so when 21,000 fans (3,000 of whom had to stand) turned out for the Eagles’ 24-0 win over state champ Southlake Carroll that christened the stadium Aug. 31. In a city of 87,000, it’s conceivable that nearly one of every four residents was there for the debut.
Opening night, according to venues.com, also included the sale of 10,051 bottles of water, 4,800 large drinks (presumably soft), and 883 hot dogs, all part of a take at the concession stand that totaled around $80,000.
Ticket sales, including those 3,000 SROs, grossed $125,000, about four times what the Eagles raked in at their old stadium that opened in 1976, one that had permanent seating for only 7,000.
In recent years, the school had to rent 3,000 portable seats per game to satisfy the turnout, and that added $250,000 to annual operating expenses.
Line item: 3,000 rental seats, quarter of a million dollars. If that happened in the Hub, the Globe Spotlight team would be tap dancing down Morrissey Boulevard.
If you’ve read all those numbers through the eyes of a New England high school football fan, I suspect you called for the trainer a couple of paragraphs ago and you’ve just come around now with the aid of smelling salts. We have nothing like Eagle Stadium around here for high school football, in part because you’d have to be within a Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass of the Berkshires even to find 72 available acres.
Here in the Bay State, our bigger high school football stadia include the likes of Marciano Stadium in Brockton with its 10,000 seats, Veteran’s Memorial Stadium (9,000) in Lawrence, and Cawley Stadium (6,000) in Lowell. We don’t do 18,000 seats unless it’s Boston Garden (17,565, but we’ll round off) and it’s private funding. Oh, and no state back-scratching for a Route 1 overpass.
I’ve traveled plenty through the US on the job these last 35-plus years, enough to think that we’ve turned into the Homogenized States of America. Pull off a highway in Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Washington, Florida, or wherever, and you are all but guaranteed to find the same retail string of Home Depot, Best Buy, Old Navy, Mobil, McDonald’s, Macy’s, Cracker Barrel, Exxon, Lowe’s, and Burger King.
That’s not to say the US is without its unique places, Boston being one of them, as well as San Francisco, New Orleans, Key West, and many others. But that turn off US Route (fill in a number) has turned into America’s version of Groundhog Day. Wherever we go, we seem to be so much the same, at least by that measure of retail topography, our cars, our dress, our cell phones, our diet.
But then there’s Texas high school football, quintessential Texas, uniquely Lone Star, ever-mushrooming, even in an era when many Americans finally are beginning to question whether players of any age are jeopardizing their physical and psychological well-being by participating in a sport in which head trauma occurs with greater frequency than a handoff.
If the scores upon scores of players currently signing their names to lawsuits against the NFL claiming it is responsible for their various levels of cognitive impairment prevail, then the game at every level will be forced to make massive changes. Even some towns in Texas could be forced to abandon the game outright.
What then of a $60 million football stadium that acts as stage to but a handful of games each fall?
If that’s a worry in Texas, it is for another day. Maybe. In Allen, it’s football season, boy. The locals are busting with pride and Eagle Stadium is busting at the seams.
Allen may have the most opulent of high school stadia in Texas, but there are others with more seats. Odessa, in West Texas, built its stadium, with 19,000 seats, for $5.6 million in 1982. Mesquite’s stadium seats 20,000. Poor Plano must make do with 14,000.
Texas has some 1,200 high school stadia, and for sheer size Allen ranks No. 5.
Yessiree, if it’s high school football that floats your bass fishing boat, the great state of Texas remains the center of the gridiron universe. For roughly $60 million, the sons and daughters of Allen have themselves not just the state of the art, but the frame that goes with it. Some picture, isn’t it?