The Benton School Board took a bold step this week. Not only did it take measures to complete the sports complex but it also helped chart a course, along with others in the city, to set a footprint downtown that could dramatically change the complexion of Benton.
It wasnâ€™t that long ago when the controversy surrounding C.W. Lewis Stadium and the loss of Friday night football at this honored location was on the front burner of community conversation. The very thought of moving from one location to the other sparked allegations of collusion, conspiracy and questionable motives from both sides of the field. Some saw the issue as a battle between oldtimers versus youngsters. Others saw it as a back-room deal that had been worked out in advance and sprung upon an unknowing public. Regardless of how it all came about, sides were chosen. People were either for or against the move. There didnâ€™t seem to be those who really didnâ€™t care one way or the other.
Initially, I was one of those who wanted to see C.W. Lewis remain the home of Panther football. I visited the new sports complex at the invitation of superintendent Dr. Tony Prothro. Thirty minutes later, I was convinced. It was time to move. It didnâ€™t matter how it all came about. Nothing could be done to change it anyway. What mattered was how the district and town could move forward.
Now, the time has come to finish the journey. But so much more is on the horizon.
Not only will the district complete the sports complex, but the possibility exists for a desperately needed upgrade for the central administration offices for the school system. The current building is falling apart and the cost to repair would be money thrown down a pit.
The biggest piece of the whole deal, in this writerâ€™s opinion, is the prospect of a new UALR campus at the location of C.W. Lewis Stadium. I can think of no better way for that cherished area to evolve than a continuation of the education process it has been part of for 75 years. The area now has the opportunity to be a full-time piece of the fabric of Downtown Benton instead of an empty football field.
The specter of a university campus in Downtown Benton is clearly a boon to the area. Traffic and people coming to the school everyday holds a greater value to commerce downtown than three or four football games on Friday night when most of the merchants there are closed anyway.
The challenge now becomes how to make that transition from C.W. Lewis to the sports complex.
I have a few ideas.
The school board is well aware of the emotion and tradition that many of those who attended Benton High School during the past several decades have for their stadium. The board saw and heard it all firsthand.
The board has the opportunity before them to heal the wounds of the past and pave the way for a new tradition across town. It can do so by making sure an old piece of the stadium is carried forward to the new sports complex. Perhaps the bandstand could be moved. Perhaps a section of the concrete railing from behind the Panther bench could be placed near the team exit onto the new field so that players could pass it each home game as a reminder of the tradition this town has for football. Any item from the field placed in plain sight would be a reminder of from whence we came in the midst of where we are going.
Have a parade after the final home game at C.W. Lewis to the new field. Have a tailgate party at the new complex. Make it all a very big deal â€” not because it can be done, but because it should be done.
The opportunity for some incredible things to happen in Downtown Benton is lying at the feet of those who will take the opportunity to do something with it. People with vision are needed. I know they are out there.
Take the deal with First Security Bank.
So letâ€™s light up the scoreboard. Benton School Board/District 1, City of Benton 1.
Itâ€™s a win-win situation.
Brent Davis is the managing editor of the Saline Courier. He is a graduate of the Benton School District. His column appears periodically as well as each Friday exclusively in the Saline Courier. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgView more articles in: