When Ezio Ross was the varsity quarterback for his Miami high school in the early 1970s, he played for the championship one year before 40,000 fans.
It's not surprising then that Ross, whose son is the Woodlawn High School varsity quarterback, was more than a little disappointed when only a handful of spectators would turn out to see the Woodlawn High football team play.
"To come up to Maryland and see 20, 30 people in the stadium, ... it was ... interesting," said Ross, a regional vice president for Primerica Financial Services.
Ross said he believed that a new football stadium at Woodlawn High could help generate the kind of enthusiasm for high school sports he had experienced in Florida.
So he organized the Woodlawn Community Education and Development Association. As of today, the group, with the support of Baltimore County government, will have raised the $350,000 needed to make the stadium a reality.
The Woodlawn High team has played its home games on a field surrounded by a running track with no permanent seating. Recently, bleachers were leased from the Baltimore Ravens. Before that, spectators were asked to bring lawn chairs.
At 10 a.m. today in the Woodlawn High gym, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is scheduled to present the association with a $160,000 check. Combined with the money the association has raised, that will be enough to build a nearly 2,000- seat stadium. The facility is scheduled to open in time for football season next fall.
"The vision is to see that stadium on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon packed with people. We want to bring the students out, bring the parents out, bring the kids out," said Robert J. Barrett, the county's acting director of recreation and parks.
To secure the funding, Ross and his organization approached then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger last year for a grant. Ruppersberger agreed to help, if the association could raise at least a third of the money on its own. He appointed Barrett, then a senior aide, to give advice on how to solicit funding from the business community.
"You always hear about how parents aren't involved in schools ... but parents were involved here from the beginning," said Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, who also provided guidance to the association.
The association approached local businesses leaders, including Woodlawn High alumni. Fox Chevrolet paid for a $25,000 press box. Kevin Liles, a 1986 graduate and president of Def Jam Records, donated $150,000.
"When we approached Liles, he remembered people talking about trying to build a new stadium when he went to Woodlawn," said Principal Anthony Thompson. "This is a 20-year wish, and it's finally going to happen."
Ross hopes to pay for maintenance and lights for night games by allowing businesses to purchase advertising space in the stadium.