The spotlight belongs on student achievement, not athletic lights

The spotlight belongs on student achievement, not athletic lights

By Kathryn Papp, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

Once again the “fear of change” putdown is being wielded by a small group of contentious promoters who want athletic lights installed permanently at T.C. Williams’ large sports stadium. They propose that the sound and lights would be fully amplified and lit for a variety of year-round night activities, led by football.

What is truly remarkable about the longstanding pact barring permanent lights between the school and its neighbors is that it has worked for everyone. When special or noteworthy events requiring a lighted stadium come up, everyone gets on board and supports the one-time exception to the rule.

It is a sign of resilience and good healthy relationships when people can come together over rare events. It demonstrates openness to change and flexibility. The best multi-party agreements withstand the test of time because they are built on trust, shared purpose and enduring values. We’d like to believe those still exist, but the school board’s certified letters to the community telling them of this new intent to erect athletic lights shows a preference for harassment.

It is ironic that “fear of change” is the charge leveled at the engaged and honest community that surrounds the school. It is well recognized and generally agreed that T.C. has failed to improve the educational performance of all of its students, even as they face a changing world. Having been awarded significant amounts of money to upgrade the facility, school officials failed to install good math and science labs, ignored the global advantage of speaking more than one language and instead did a major build-out of athletic facilities and parking garages. As a result, we live with a revolving door of supervisors, teachers and residents who move out of town when their children reach school age.

I highly doubt that any college application requires filling a special box for the number of hours spent playing or cheering for sports in lighted stadiums. Access to lighted arenas is not now, nor has it ever been, a good measure of success in life, unless one is blessed with the natural ability to be among the tiny minority of athletes at the top of their field. The vast majority of students must contend with competition from those excelling in math, science, languages, computer skills and the capacity to empathize with others.

Finally, making the connection between the change in race relations — that was not only long overdue but also required great personal courage — and the change of adding lights to a sports stadium is contemptible. What the football team at T.C. did was extraordinary, indeed. They led the school, city, their families and many others in the kind of change the high school now needs to embrace again. Rather than light up a football field, the school needs to shine the lights on how students, individually and together, can find a better way to win on the playing field of life.