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Largo High football team and band adjust as work on the field disrupts season

Upgrades to the Largo High School football field continue  The field improvements, which include a new drainage system, improved elevation, a stormwater system, a new track and new sod, were always part of the $65 million, two-year renovation to the school's campus. Yet, the project has bled into football season, causing the football team to travel for what were supposed to be two home games and the band to cancel a major event. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times

Upgrades to the Largo High School football field continue The field improvements, which include a new drainage system, improved elevation, a stormwater system, a new track and new sod, were always part of the $65 million, two-year renovation to the school's campus. Yet, the project has bled into football season, causing the football team to travel for what were supposed to be two home games and the band to cancel a major event. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Aug. 30, 2017

LARGO — The fanfare and Friday night lights of high school football season have begun, but one Pinellas County team won't have home field advantage for another month.

The renovation of Largo High School's football field has bled into the season, pushing two September home games to away games and causing the cancellation of a band tournament slated for the beginning of October.

The project marks the last step of a $65 million redo to the high school, which opened to students last year. When asked why the field renovation — which has to go before the School Board for approval — didn't accommodate for a completion date before football season, Pinellas school district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said "this was the best schedule presented to the board as possible" but didn't elaborate.

Principal Bradley Finkbiner said he told district officials his desired completion date was October because he "forgot about the two home games in September."

"It's tough to feel like I disappointed my staff," he said. "I have worked with them to make adjustments needed while the construction is completed, and we are very excited to show off our renovated stadium."

The two affected home games against Dixie Hollins and Countryside will take place at the competitors' stadiums, Finkbiner said. The first home game will be Oct. 13 against Osceola Fundamental High School. The Homecoming game on Oct. 20 will not be affected.

The project, which includes improvements to the field and track, began on June 28 and is expected to be completed at the end of September, according to school board records.

The scheduling changes came as a surprise to Coach Marcus Paschal, who said he was told the renovations were supposed to start after spring football ended in mid-May.

May turned to June, and he noticed that work hadn't begun. After asking around, he learned the project was going to start at the end of the month. He said he didn't know why it started later.

"That's something I can't control," he said. "I would love to have the field ready to go, but that's not the situation right now."

Another school organization impacted by the project is the Band of Gold. Along with performing during halftime at home games, the band booked the field Oct. 7 for what would have been the 42nd annual Golden Invitational, a tournament that director Christopher Benoit said is like one big halftime show with several bands.

Benoit announced Aug. 12 on the band's Facebook page that the school had to cancel the invitational because "the field is simply not going to be ready." While the sod will be in place before the invitational date, it has to be down for a certain number of days before anything happens on the field, Benoit said.

"It's very frustrating for all of us," he wrote in the Facebook post. "I am actually way beyond frustrated, but our focus needs to be on finding ways to pick up and make things work."

With the missed performance opportunities comes a loss of revenue. The band typically makes about $1,000 to $1,500 per home game between concessions and parking, Benoit said, and between $5,000 and $8,000 off the Golden Invitational, which includes a program booklet with paid advertisements. The money goes toward transportation and entry fees for events as well as helping students who can't afford on their own the costs of being in the band.

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Benoit said he's optimistic his organization will be able to make up for the lost funds. The band raised more than $700 at a fundraiser Aug. 15 at Chipotle Mexican Grill, where the group saw an outpouring of support from the community and programs from other schools.

The band will also host an indoor color guard and percussion show in the spring. Many of the advertisers who bought space for the Golden Invitational program agreed to move their ads to the spring show program. And when it comes to the two lost home games, Finkbiner said Dixie Hollins and Countryside will play at Largo next year.

Like Paschal, Benoit said his understanding was the project was supposed to start right after spring football. He didn't know why the project schedule changed — "That's way above me," he said. But he shared the football coach's attitude that, while the outcome is disappointing, it's out of his control, and the band has planned accordingly.

"We just have to plan on best case scenarios," he said, "and be prepared for worst case scenarios."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.