Monday’s news that Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs had axed plans for a BMX track at South-Doyle Middle School meant rolling with the flow for Andrew Brown.
In his third year as principal, Brown has honed a positive philosophy about South Knoxville’s only middle school. And while the BMX track held the promise of good things to come, he’s satisfied that SDMS is still coming out on top in the deal.
“The great thing is, Mayor Jacobs has really taken care of us as a school,” Brown said Tuesday. “That was his first priority. He was like, ‘You guys had facilities here and, whatever is whatever with the BMX, but you need to have the things that you used to have back.”
Jacobs also told Brown that the track at the stadium would be repaved, and discus and shot-put circles would be placed on the infield.
“Right now, my track team is having to run in the parking lot and in the gym because we don’t have a track,” said Brown. Even before trucks started moving dirt into the infield, the track was in bad condition.
“That’s not something that as a middle school we can really invest in, like a high school can. We had not maintained it. It was painted, but it was just basically asphalt. It wasn’t a rubberized surface that they use now.”
Now SDMS will be able to host track meets at home instead of at South-Doyle High School.
The county’s Parks & Recreation Department is finishing up new athletic fields behind the gym that will suit the school’s needs. And once the academic year has ended, Jacobs told Brown the county will remove the piles of earth that were moved down to the stadium for the BMX track when the upper fields were leveled off. (Powell’s principal told KnoxTNToday that Jacobs had told him he could have the dirt for Powell High’s softball field, which was damaged by the recent flooding, immediately, but rain has left the dirt soaked.)
The upper fields will have new bleachers, restrooms and a concession stand.
“The good thing about having the fields right here behind the school is they literally can open up the back doors to the gym and be right out there on the fields,” Brown said. The stadium is situated at the bottom of a hill.
“They haven’t been used yet because we’ve been waiting for the sod to be established and all that, but they’re completed and they’re leveled. The only thing left is for them to fence and put the scoreboard and then the bleachers and stuff.”
Because SDMS was built as a high school – when South and Young were merged – it has amenities not usually found at a middle school. The stadium has little value. Its main use has been on the annual Field Day in May.
The school’s white elephant held great appeal to Knoxville BMX, which saw it as an excellent site for a BMX track that could put on revenue-generating events on a national level. Doug Bataille, then the county’s senior director of Parks & Recreation, also supported the idea.
“That’s why, when BMX was put on the table, when I met with community members and parents, that’s where we all landed,” said Brown. “It was a win-win. They got what they needed because we had something that really, for a middle school, we don’t need.
“BMX would have this facility and we could possibly reap some of the benefits of that with them doing some profit-sharing and maybe we could run concessions or charge for parking or whatever. But then they were going to build all this stuff up here closer to our school.”
One thing that Brown had been made aware of by the community was the importance of the coach for whom the stadium was named and who had shaped the lives of hundreds of South Knoxville students: Pete Stafford.
Before talks began about launching the project, Brown said, “I don’t feel good doing anything down there unless we include Pete Stafford in the conversation.’ So Coach Stafford came over and sat down with Doug and myself and Daryl Chandler, and we talked about it. His thing was, ‘Hey, if we think this is what’s gonna give kids in South Knoxville something else to plug in to, I’m all for it.’ So it felt like he kind of gave his blessing for Parks & Rec to move forward with it.”
Brown does feel disappointed that the BMX project was stopped. The sport is gaining in popularity and is now part of the Olympics, and it offers a variety of benefits.
“I was unaware that there were opportunities in college for scholarships and those kind of things,” he said. “Now colleges have BMX teams, I guess with the X Games and that kind of stuff.
“It would’ve been cool to have BMX. I think with the cycling community here in South Knoxville that was exciting for a lot of people. But I don’t think – and I don’t know; I’ve not spoken to the mayor about that specifically – I don’t think the issue’s dead. I think they may just consider a different place.”