Much acclaim has been given "Friday Night Lights," from the 1990 book about a Texas town and its devotion to high school football to the movie and Emmy-winning TV series it spawned. Playing under the bright lights with hundreds or even thousands of excited local fans in attendance is something many high school athletes aspire to do — perhaps never more so than today, thanks in no small part to the legacy of Permian High School and its fictional counterpart, Dylan High.
But not everyone is so thrilled by the prospect of lighted athletic fields. The same bright lights that make it possible to play football, soccer and other sports at night can spill over on the surrounding community, encouraging late-night gatherings, raucous partying and a loss of privacy, all of which can leave local residents seeing red.
That doesn't mean that high schools should not be allowed to light their athletic fields, but some reasonable limits ought to be imposed so that neighbors aren't overwhelmed. Imagine the surprise of waking up one morning and finding 80-foot-tall lighting poles with commercial-grade lights being readied for the school across the street.
Loch Raven Village Community Association President Gretchen Sarkin doesn't have to imagine such a circumstance at all. That happened to her earlier this year, when Calvert Hall College High School installed permanent lights at the baseball field across the street from her home.
Much to her chagrin, Ms. Sarkin discovered the school was perfectly within its rights to do so. Baltimore County sets no standards on the installation or operation of stadium lights. And although Calvert Hall officials had told her lights were coming, she said she expected they'd be more like streets lights and not so similar to those found at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Earlier this week, Baltimore County Councilman David Marks introduced a resolution asking for the county's planning board to recommend guidelines and rules that might limit stadium lights at schools like Calvert Hall. It's an excellent idea and clearly overdue. We would encourage the full council to adopt the proposal at its next scheduled council meeting Oct. 3.
Baltimore County's public schools tend to have fewer lighting disputes because the system's own rules require surrounding communities to be consulted over lighting and both the school board and county council have control over funding. Thus, if local community associations feel strongly against lighting a public school field, it probably won't move forward.
In the meantime, Calvert Hall and the local community association ought to negotiate some voluntary restrictions on the use of the lights at McManus Baseball Field. The two sides seem willing to proceed but have been held up only by timing — Ms. Sarkin is seeking a long-term agreement while the school would prefer a one-year understanding.
Calvert Hall, an athletic powerhouse in the Baltimore area, can hardly be blamed for seeking the best opportunities for its student-athletes. And even critics of the lights concede that the school has otherwise been a good and reliable neighbor. Surely a compromise is possible if school administrators can put themselves in the place of Ms. Sarkin and her neighbors who simply seek written assurances that the lights won't be used at all hours, not just next year but into the future.
Just as good fences make good neighbors, good rules of conduct build good relationships — which sounds just like something Permian's coach might say to his troops. High school athletics are supposed to be fun and not something that pits neighbor against neighbor (unless it's the Poly-City rivalry, but that's another editorial for another day).
No doubt other schools, public and private, are looking into installing lights. Many schools are hard-pressed to fit in all the various men's and women's teams in the spring and fall seasons on the limited number of existing fields without lights to extend their hours. It's something alumni groups and athletic boosters have been known to help finance.
But Baltimore County can't sit idly by without setting some guidelines that might apply to all. As with any sport, a rule book and referee are required. Building first and resolving disputes later is no way to run an athletic program, let alone foster good will between schools and their communities.