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On March 19 at 6:00 p.m., Hoover High School’s auditorium was filled with people. Students dressed in cardinal-red jumpsuits sat next to neatly dressed faculty and staff. Members of the girls’ softball team, in dusty practice uniforms, sat beside parents in work clothes. The school’s varsity football coach stood at the front of the auditorium -- the whistle around his neck dangling against a black sweatsuit with “Friday Night Lights” written on the front.

When Hoover High School principal Chuck Podhorsky grabbed the microphone, the crowd cheered.

But this wasn’t a school pep rally or ordinary school assembly. The crowd of a hundred-plus was there for a meeting -- organized by the San Diego Unified School District -- about proposed improvements to Hoover High.

Those improvements include a new 20-classroom building, a “green” construction facility with a woodshop, a new football and softball field, light towers for night games, visitors’ bleachers, and a concession/press-box building.

Sitting in the middle of the crowd was a group of concerned residents from the surrounding community who have opposed certain aspects of the project.

In recent months, the school district has made several changes to the project in an attempt to mitigate the neighbors’ concerns. The neighbors, however, want more.

Mainly, they want some kind of guarantee regarding the number of nighttime events and a promise that the school won’t rent out the field for non-school events. The neighbors went to the meeting expecting to discuss the project and express their concerns.

“What was supposed to be an update ended up being more of a pep rally,” said one resident the day after the event; they felt blindsided by the meeting’s format.

“The community came in good faith to a non-neutral meeting place to hear detailed updates on the project and instead were the target of criticism from the school representatives and student body.”

During the meeting, parents, students, and teachers petitioned the school district to bring lights to Hoover High. Some speakers accused the residents of “opposing the progress” of their children.”

The residents say that’s wrong. All they want is a guarantee from school administration. After nearly 20 speakers, all in support of the lights, one resident tried to get that guarantee.

“I’d like to say I’m extremely impressed by the speakers. But, I have a question for the principal: You have used an expression that strikes fear into my heart. You have said many times that you don’t have any plans at this time to rent out the field. That doesn’t say you won’t, and we need to hear that.”

After a few unclear statements about the number of events from the principal, the school’s athletic director, Ron Lardizabal took a shot at addressing the question.

“I stand by Dr. Podhorsky that that will definitely be in writing.”

“Why don’t you just say it now then,” shouted one resident from the audience.

“I thought I just did,” answered the athletic director.

“No, you just danced all around it.”

Cynthia Reed-Porter, spokesperson for the school district, didn’t return this correspondent’s request for comment.

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nativesd123 March 22, 2009 @ 3:17 p.m.

YES - it is very sad that someone at the school is really pushing hard to pit the residents against the students. The residents want to support the school and the students. In fact, several residents have tried to approach the principal to discuss how the community can work with the school to control truancy issues, crime and even boost fundraising for the school, but he has been non-responsive and seems pretty dead set on pushing his agenda through without regard for how it impacts the residents.

The real concern most residents have is the impact the field lighting will have on the residents. That concern is REAL and due to the FACT that there is already a very long track record of the school not assisting the residents with issues related to trash, traffic, noise and drug use around the field by the groups that use the field during the evenings and weekends. With lights, that means not only will weekends be filled with field use, but so will the nights. More problems arise at night - just look at the existing crime reports around the school.

A teacher at Hoover made some comments about how the residents should not complain because we bought a house by the school, well when a lot of people bought their homes, the field was not new and there were not lights. So the use of the field was never a big concern for residents, but over the past few years it has been and the residents have tried to get the school to be responsive, but the administration has not been willing to work with the community. Only now, because the residents have decided enough is enough, has the district started to listen. But they are still not listening to the real concern - the lights issue.

Someone even made a comment that the residents are calling the students criminals and that the students are the problem. This is an example of how individuals associated with the school are trying to create a larger divide between the school and the residents. The residents never once said those things, that was never given as a reason for opposition to the lights at any meeting or on the resident website. In fact, on the bajatalmadge.org website, in an article regarding friday night lights, it says that it is not the students on the field causing the problems - it is some of the spectators and other individuals who come to the nightly events that are causing the crime issues.

The school says they will limit the number of events, but they have gone back and forth on how many events there will be, not to mention they are very vague about when and where that will be put in writing. It is really just a lame attempt to try to provide a false sense of hope to residents, because in the end, this is really about money - not the students. That field is a money generator for the district, no matter what they say, they are not going to spend thousands of dollars on field lighting to then be limited on how often they can use them.

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harrigan March 22, 2009 @ 8:33 p.m.

This was a very sad evening for, not only me but for those from the community who are honestly trying to find an equitable solution for all those involved. It was also a terrible lesson in Civics and fair play for the young people who were involved in the meeting, as a list to sign up as a speaker was obviously passed around to students, parents, and teachers. Those of us from the surrounding community were not told that there was a sign up sheet. Approximately one and one half hours into the meeting, someone walked around asking if any of us wanted to speak. By then, the majority of people had left the auditorium.

I blame the adults who were involved. They are supposed to teach fair play, not how to stack the deck. I am so disappointed in them. Any admiration I might have had for them has been severly tempered by this display. It was a loss for all of us.

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Fred Williams March 23, 2009 @ 2:27 a.m.

Sports and scholarship should be separate.

This story illustrates the problem we've grown in our society. Because sports are perversely grafted onto the schools, it becomes "residents vs. students".

That's not it at all.

It's about people who attend aggressive sporting events. Everywhere in the world, these events provoke fights, drunkenness, and other antisocial behavior. Coaches teach how to "beat" the other team. It's all about testosterone and adrenaline, and has NOTHING to do with education.

When you host events of this nature, the outcome is so well-known that the residents have legitimate concerns for their safety and quality of life.

Then the professional bullies get their crazed fans and naive students to intimidate those who dare stand in opposition. They put on the false cloak of "scholarship", when in fact all they care about is sports and entertainment.

Hoover has serious problems. Gang activity and poor student achievement are just symptomatic of the mentality that puts sports in the place of a learning curriculum. Hoover DOESN'T need yet more sports spending that will only drive down the neighborhood. Hoover needs teachers and students who are there to learn...NOT play games.

If football games are so damned important, let the Chargers pay for the playing fields their trainees require. The rest of society needs engineers, scientists, and other useful people. Not more frustrated wannabe jocks picking fights at a Friday night game.

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gmoe March 23, 2009 @ 5:14 p.m.

Sports are very important to our youth, especially at the High School level. Coaches teach a whole hell of a lot more than how to "beat" the other team. It saddens me to hear that members of the community think that sports are not educational and not important to our youth. Coaches have lasting impressions on our youth in many aspescts of life. Many engineers, scientists and other useful people in your own community may have used sports as a means for earning a scolarship to get to where they are now. Those same people may have used lessons learned on the playing field to improve your very quality of life. Think about the other side of things before you go pointing fingers, that goes for the school officals as well.

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community_watch March 23, 2009 @ 9:29 p.m.

No one from our community is against sports. We have never said it nor implied it. Just like the previous commenter states, there are many life long lessons that can be gained by participating in sports. The community’s main concern is with the installation of permanent lights. Once installed there is no stopping the school district from renting out the field to outside organizations which means they could potentially host an event at the football field every night of the week. I’m not saying that would happen, mind you, but the potential is there and the impact to the community would be devastating.

We are a very close knit community and know the ins and outs of the neighborhood very well. We know the traffic patterns, parking issues, where graffiti occurs, where some students jump the fence during school hours, etc, etc. We also know the impact school events have on the community at various times of the day, evenings, or week-ends. The community really didn’t start having issues with Hoover High until after the artificial field was installed back in 2001 and the school started renting it to other organizations shortly there after. The events themselves were fine, but the administration either does not have field use policies in place or doesn’t have the resources to enforce them. For instance, visitors that came to the events had their own little drinking parties going on outside the field and on community members’ private property without their permission. The inconsideration of the folks that attended these events was appalling. Illegally parked cars in and across driveways, dumping of trash on our lawns and streets, showing very little respect to the community which is taking the blunt of the abuse. Hardly the role models for a youth sporting event don’t you think. When we heard that the school was willing to get rid of the week-end youth events just to get the lights approved we were not only surprised but amazed and appalled at the same time. Why is it that the administration is willing to get rid of a popular week-end youth event that occurs during the day just to make way for lights to be installed which opens the door to night events? They could not even handle the day events and enforce the rules that should have been in place when the other organizations leased the field. Who knows, perhaps it was just a matter of not having enough authority over the perpetrators. Maybe they would have more control over Hoover school events which I hope is the case. I, for one, am willing to give it a chance but only with the follow through of plan changes to date and an enforceable document detailing what the principal has stated in the last few community meetings – no more than 15 night events per school year, no leasing of the field for night events, and listing all of the policies that would be enforced by the school and district to ensure that night events are executed smoothly and safely for all parties affected.

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