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Building a better Brickyard

Thomson High School fans could get their wish under the next round of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collections.

"I will work to make this a first-class place," said McDuffie County Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen. "The Brickyard will always be The Brickyard, but the ghosts probably need a new home."

Although no dollar figure has been set aside for the work and school board members must still approve a total sales tax package, Dr. Petersen said he'd like to see an intensive renovation of the historic stadium.

New bathrooms, new concession stands, a more-level field, better drainage and more seats are among the projects he's suggesting.

"Obviously we have a limited budget, but we can do things first rate and first class," he said.

The Brickyard was built late 1930s and early 1940s with bricks left from the burned Thomson High School, which sat at the current location of Thomson Middle School. The first game was played there in 1941. Over the years, the stadium played host to both baseball and football games.

"There is such a tradition," Dr. Petersen said. "It's one of those activities that it does not matter if you are rich or poor, black or white. It's about coming together for a common goal. Friday nights is a great time in Thomson, Ga."

For the Bulldog faithful, the talk of planned renovations to The Brickyard is welcome news.

Bobby Hodges, who runs the Thomsonfootball.com website and is a frequent contributor to The McDuffie Mirror during football season, has his wish list for The Brickyard. It includes a new scoreboard and a visitor's press box, but he said there are other, more pressing issues at the stadium.

"The new restrooms and concession stands are long overdue and their addition will certainly be a tremendous improvement to the quality of the facility," Mr. Hodges said. "Our Brickyard is recognized by fans statewide as one of the truly great high school football venues. This will make it even better."

Ralph Starling, a member of the Athletic Booster Club and co-host of the Two Old Dogs Show on WTHO, hopes that the home stands can be expanded upward with new restroom facilities and concession stands put underneath.

In addition to a "first-class" scoreboard, he also would like to see handicap rails added to the stands to help the disabled who want to support the Bulldogs.

"I've had a lot of my friends that's getting a little older say they need something to grab a hold of," he said.

Dreaming big, Mr. Starling said he would like to see the school system purchase the National Guard Armory to use as a field house. He said the bricks on the old field house could make the foundation of the fence that would encompass the Armory as part of the facility.

"You know, $4 million or $5 million and we might could get all that," he said. "And it would be a show place. It's right downtown; it's historic. Gosh, I think it would be great if we could do all that."

And once Coach Welsh retires, Mr. Starling said he would like to see the field named after the winningest coach in Thomson history. It would be called Luther Welsh Field at the Brickyard, he said. He would also add a statue of the three-time state champion coach near the end zone closest to the front entrance.

Coach Welsh said first on his list of needs is to tear down the old field house and build new ones with more storage and larger dressing rooms that could better accommodate not only his team but visiting teams as well.

"If they're going to spend any money, then they need to do it right or wait until they get the money to do it right," Coach Welsh said.

A close second on his list is to renovate the playing field. He said the foundation wasn't done right to begin with, so now improper drainage causes the field to hold water.

Coach Welsh also echoed other people's concerns about the restroom facilities, concession stands and creating enough seating for the fans. But his ultimate plan, if money wasn't a factor, includes more drastic measures.

"Of course if we had plenty of money, I tell you what I would do. I would go in there and clean out the whole works. The only thing left would be the bricks," he said. "I would redo the thing up like it ought to be, but that would cost a few dollars."

Since that's probably not an option, Coach Welsh said he would settle for "doing the necessities, and doing them right."

The proposed work may also make the stadium more compatible with playing host to state title games now that the Georgia High School Association will allow neutral-site championship games.

But the idea of neutral site championship games doesn't sit well with Dr. Petersen when it comes to the home team.

"When we are in the state championship game, I want to be in The Brickyard," he said.

A new stadium could cost millions of dollars - the 6,000-seat Lucy C. Laney stadium being built in Augusta carries a $4.5 million price tag. Dr. Petersen said he wasn't sure what the Brickyard renovations would cost and wouldn't even give a ballpark estimate. He said he wanted to get public opinion on the scope of the work first.

Dr. Petersen said a committee could be in place by the summer, and that group will help shape the future of the stadium - and the cost of the work. He said he wasn't sure when the actual renovation work could begin.

"It's going to take all of us to get this done," he said. "This is not a 'we' or a 'me' kind of thing."

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Web posted on Thursday, February 23, 2006













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