(John Barnett has witnessed and participated in Thomson's football history for parts of six decades. He offered these observations on this year's changes to The Brickyard.)
The first football game I ever remember seeing at The Brickyard was in 1963. I may have seen some prior, but that's the first one I remember. We lost to Class B power Morgan County 20-6.
I have probably spent as much time in that stadium as anyone, given the fact that I played there in some capacity from 1967 in elementary school until 1974, my senior season, and coached there for 23 years. Since Coach Luther Welsh was famous for his marathon practices, and we practiced in the stadium for several years where our new concession stand and restrooms are, I think you get my point about the hours I've spent there.
I've seen subtle changes to the stadium over time, such as replacing the wooden bleachers with aluminum seats in the mid-80s. I also remember the fans sitting in lawn chairs and standing in the north end zone on the scoreboard end in the 60s.
The home and visitors sides were reversed in the mid 90s. I've experienced the thrill of great victories and agonizing losses. I coached 145 varsity football games in that stadium. The Brickyard is part of who I am. I'm now in a different role. I no longer coach, but was asked by coaches Milan Turner and Lee Hutto to help from the press box on Friday nights after studying film at home and scouting opponents.
My role has changed, but my love for the Thomson Bulldogs and The Brickyard has not.
Years after first promised and after months of anticipation, Thomson High football fans streamed into the partially renovated Brickyard last Friday to see their beloved Bulldogs take on the Hephzibah Rebels in the season's first home game. The stadium is now on its way to becoming a mix of necessity and desire in which a great effort was made to both preserve and enhance the history of the facility. Much work remains. If the SPLOST passes on Nov. 8, the home stands will be replaced and new dressing facilities will be added.
McDuffie County now has a safer stadium that offers more seating, handicap access, security lights, a modern scoreboard, and new, larger restroom and concession facilities.
Also, in each end zone are now play clocks to inform teams and coaches how much time is left before the next play must begin. This should help both teams avoid delay of game penalties. According to McDuffie County School Superintendent Jim LeBrun, every effort has been made to make the stadium, with all of its history and tradition, durable and aesthetically pleasing.
While some fans might voice concern over the cost of the new scoreboard, LeBrun pointed out that sponsorship dollars will be collected over several years to reimburse the taxpayers. Parrish Construction Co., which is the contractor for this massive project, is featured prominently as one of those sponsors.
Phase I of the stadium renovation, financed by the current SPLOST, approved by county voters in 2006, has cost approximately $1.7 million. The Brickyard now has a seating capacity of about 4,400 instead of the 3,400 before the renovation. This includes two seating areas in the south end zone of 512 seats each for home and visitors. Separating the two areas is an attractive brick wall constructed in the image of the original outside wall of the stadium.
If approved, the new SPLOST will add to the home stands, bringing our seating capacity to more than 6,000. This will put us well within the range for holding state playoff games even if we were to be moved up in classification. Despite the economic problems this and all communities are facing, monthly revenue from the current SPLOST now stands at close to $295,000, only $5000 under the goal of $300,000. While this SPLOST is in effect until December 2012, passing the new SPLOST will be necessary to finance the remaining stadium improvements.
Phase II of the Brickyard Renovation will bring much needed improvements in several additional areas of the facility. Access to seating on the home side will then be available from both ends and from the rear of the stands. There will be new dressing facilities constructed under the home stands.
Improvements will be made to the field, and the home sideline will be wider, necessitated by a new rule passed by the Georgia High School Association in which the chain crew, coaches and players must be farther from the playing field in a move to improve safety. Currently, Thomson High coaches and players have very little room between the field and the chain link fence. Furthermore, there will no longer be a walkway at ground level in front of the home stands.
Our stadium is well on the way to becoming a facility of which we can again be proud. It's beautiful, and it preserves the history and tradition which we cherish. It is now in the hands of the voters of McDuffie County as to whether the job will be completed. Beginning Oct. 18, citizens can begin early voting. This will enable you to vote on the SPLOST in addition to the city election for those who reside in the city. If you wait until Election Day on Nov.8, city residents might have to vote in separate places for mayor and the SPLOST based on the voter's county voting district.
It's important to let your voice be heard.