Howard has juice on stadium lights

All 11 county high schools to be included in project with help of private funds

High Schools

April 15, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

The unique campaign to install privately funded lights at public high school stadiums in Howard County remained on course yesterday when interim Superintendent Sidney Cousin made a long-awaited announcement that every high school would be included in the project.

It also was announced that the project now has 10 corporate donors who have contributed a total of $475,000. An estimated $850,000 is needed for the lights. Representatives for eight of those donors attended a check-signing ceremony yesterday at the Howard County Board of Education.

"This is a very, very good day for the Howard County public school system," said Courtney Watson, school board chairwoman. "We will need more public/private partnerships in the future and we are appreciative of this effort."

Since the school board approved the fund-raising system on March 11, the Turn On The Lights campaign's finance committee, headed by Douglas Hostetler, has raised $500,000. The contributions are tax-deductible.

"We still need three to five more corporate donors," said Hostetler, who has two sons at River Hill and who contributed $25,000 in his company's name, Hostetler, Church and Associates.

The other corporate donors include: Ascend One Corporation, $100,000; Citizens National Bank, GEICO Insurance, Miller Brothers Automotive Family, The Northrop Team/Long and Foster, RE/MAX Advantage Realty and Selfridge Builders, $50,000 each; Koons Ford and Merritt Properties, $25,000 each.

The campaign is entering a new phase as high school booster groups are expected to raise $100,000, and the students themselves, $50,000.

The deadline to raise $850,000 is June 1 if the school system is to reach its goal of having lights constructed in time for the fall season.

Each school will be allowed to host four night football games, four night soccer games and a maximum of four night playoff games. Lights have to be turned off by 9:30 p.m., and because of that, night football games are expected to start at 6:30 p.m.

Cousin's decision to include all 10 schools without lights, and one more that is under construction, relied upon information provided in a March 24 report from administrative directors Michael Martirano and Daniel Michaels. The report was based on testimony from public hearings and the recommendations of all high school principals.

The report said that 90 percent of the testimony, involving 5,000 individuals, was in support of lighting the stadiums. The board gave its formal approval to light the stadiums on Oct. 29.

"I think they'll pull this off right on schedule because this community is strong," said Matt Hauser, who runs a GEICO insurance business and whose daughter is a cheerleader at River Hill - following in her dad's footsteps. He was a cheerleader at an all-boys school in Pennsylvania.

He said he moved to Howard County in 1993 because of the school system's reputation, and after reading a March 28 article in The Sun about the project, he sought out Hostetler.

"My school always impressed on me that education is not just about grades," he said. "It really is about extracurricular activities, including bands, pompoms and cheerleaders."

He said he was impressed by the campaign's structure. "It didn't distinguish between the haves and have-nots. No one would get lights until there was enough money for everyone to have lights," Hauser said.

Joe Pipitone, executive vice president of Citizens National Bank, said: "This is a big community event and a win-win for everyone involved and we wanted to be a part of it. We are committed to the community. I don't think the general public realizes how much this will mean to the overall community in the long haul."

Creig Northrop, a real estate mogul who grew up in Howard County and attended Patapsco Middle School and Rockland Elementary before playing football at Mount St. Joseph, said: "I responded immediately. It's an honor for me to help out. I can't believe the county doesn't have lights. It's rated by Sports Illustrated as the No. 1 sports county in the state."

John and Robert Miller operate one of the county's oldest car dealerships and played football at Howard High, the only stadium currently with lights.

"This has been talked about for so long. It will be a great thing when it happens. Some of my best memories are playing football under the lights," said Robert Miller. "I hope it all goes through, but until they are up, you don't know."

Home builder John Selfridge played football at Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College, where he met his wife, who was from Columbia.

"After 14 years of building homes in Howard County, I thought this was a nice way to say thank you," he said.

Howard County has 8,000 student athletes, 1,100 band members and 800 cheerleaders, members of drill teams, dance teams and pompom squads.

Coordinator of athletics Don Disney said: "This is the first time in the state that anything of this magnitude has been done. Involvement in extracurricular activities is a better indicator of success in college than the SAT or your GPA. Ninety-five percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies participated in athletics."

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