School cheers its new stadium

Hip-hop music executive helps his alma mater, Woodlawn, build venue

October 26, 2003|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

When hip-hop music magnate Kevin W. Liles played football at Woodlawn High School in the mid-1980s, there was little more to the field than the gridiron. Parents and fans crowded onto a small set of bleachers, brought their own chairs, or stood.

But at yesterday's homecoming game against rival Milford Mill Academy, just about everyone had a seat - in a gleaming new 2,000-person stadium named in Liles' honor.

After starting as an intern in the early 1990s, Liles rose to become president of Def Jam Records in 1998 and has been a major force in the music industry ever since.

With family still in the Baltimore area, Liles continues to nurture his local roots.

He donated $150,000 last year to help fund the new stadium after he was approached by project's coordinators.

The infusion helped kick-start the building of the largest public high school stadium in Baltimore County, complete with aluminum bleachers, a press box, wireless-controlled digital scoreboard and a public address system.

"It's not [about] what I wanted to do, it's what the community needs," Liles, 35, said yesterday before the game. "I know every day the kids practice. I wanted to provide a place ... that attracts people to come to the game."

Baltimore County chipped in another $160,000, and the rest came from fund-raisers, donors and businesses in the community, including a $25,000 gift from Fox Chevrolet. Total price tag so far: about $550,000.

A lighting system will probably cost another $200,000, said Ezio Ross, the stadium project coordinator and father of the varsity team's quarterback.

"This is nice, isn't it? I love it," said Paulette Hendricks, mother of two Woodlawn varsity players, as she sat high up in the stands. At past home games, she would have been be down at field level, probably standing. Now she had an excellent view.

Throughout Baltimore County, football fields with stadium seating are slowly becoming the norm, according to Ron Belinko, athletic program coordinator for Baltimore County public high schools.

Including Woodlawn, 13 of 24 high schools have added stadium seating and fences, enabling them to charge admission, according to Belinko.

"What they're trying to do ... is upgrade the facilities to provide a more exciting atmosphere for the student athletes participating, and to provide [a greater] comfort level to the parents," Belinko said.

The football players aren't the only ones to benefit from the new stadium. Jenelle Tates, a 17-year-old senior who leads the school's dance team, said the stadium seating gives the dancers the opportunity to perform their routines before an audience.

"It's very exciting," Tates said. "We're proud."

That excitement was there yesterday in the stands of Kevin W. Liles Stadium. The stands were filled to capacity with students and parents wearing red and black, the school's colors, to cheer on the Woodlawn Warriors, who entered the game with a 6-1 record, against Milford Mill, 1-6.

On their opening possession, the Warriors drove 66 yards for a touchdown in a series of plays that included a 41-yard pass. The crowd stomped their feet in the stands each time "We Will Rock You" blared on the new PA system.

It was the Warriors' first home game this year - a true homecoming - after they spent the first two months of the season on the road because of construction delays, the school's athletic director said.

And they didn't disappoint their fans. They won, 29-13.

"It was beyond anything that I had expected," Michael Sye, Woodlawn's athletic director, said after the game. "The atmosphere, the competition on the field was at its highest level. It felt like a college atmosphere in a high school setting."

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