By Barney Blakeney
Two of Burke High school’s most prominent supporters say a proposal to upgrade Stoney Field, the athletic facility where for more than 50 years peninsula students played football and held track and field meets, at best doesn’t address the schools’ athletic needs and most likely is the latest in a series of unfulfilled promises.
“What they’re proposing is not what we asked for,” said Earl Brown, retired football/basketball coach and 30-year athletic director at Burke. Built on landfill that was the city’s garbage dump during the 1960s, Stoney Field becomes a soggy mass of mud after heavy rains. The earth beneath its concrete bleachers unceasingly settles leaving visible gaps between the structures and the ground beneath them. Compared to most high school athletic facilities, Stoney Field is a throwback to a bygone era.
Brown said constituents of historic Burke High have been promised a modern facility since 1995. As other Charleston County public schools got new facilities, Burke’s stadium, the only CCSD athletic facility shared with its resident municipality, continues to be a symbol of the separate and unequal doctrine of the Jim Crow south imposed on predominantly Black institutions.
Brown said the $1 million school district officials propose using to build up the stadium’s field represents a “quick fix” to a continual problem that rests in soil that settles before running off into the nearby Ashley River. Early estimates for a new stadium at Stoney Field nearly two decades ago topped out at about $10 million. The district now anticipates spending anywhere from about $25 million to $35 million for new stadiums in North Charleston and Mount Pleasant respectively.
“While Nero fiddled, Rome burned,” Brown said equating the school district’s approach to resolving the issue of a new stadium for Burke. “Things are just getting worse,” he said. Such issues are being resolved at construction projects nearby – Joe Riley baseball stadium and Westedge development sites, he said. That CCSD officials have not employed methods used at those sites to positively impact Stoney Field shows the district has no real commitment to provide a quality facility at Stoney Field, Brown said.
“Enough of the bureaucratic bullcrap. Our kids are being used as a political football,” Brown said. “We know that once the (racial) demographics change, it’ll seem as if somebody planted stadium seeds and a new stadium will appear.”
Friends of Burke Co-Founder Arthur Lawrence said the issue of a new football stadium for Burke goes beyond the realm of athletics. He pointed to other disparities that contribute to the school’s academic underperformance.
“The same thing that happened at Lincoln will happen at Burke,:” Lawrence predicts. After decades of academic and enrollment decline, CCSD two years ago closed Lincoln High. That scenario is blatantly conspicuous at Burke where the enrollment is currently about 350 and the school is consistently rated at-risk by the state education department.
“Parents need to fight for something,” Lawrence said. They can do that by supporting, or refusing to support, elected officials who address the needs of Burke students, he said.