|Our Big Cat Stadiuim, Morris MN (Panoramio photo)|
Thursday, January 3, 2013
What could spoil a beautiful fall evening here?
I asked "isn't Morris basically a small, quiet and safe rural community?" In other words, shouldn't that be a selling point for the community? Shouldn't we frown about so many cotton pickin' citations being given out?
Our political leaders usually try to walk a fine line with law enforcement. They know the aim of law enforcement is to keep us safe. They also must be sure law enforcement doesn't become an onerous and oppressive presence. The same applies to "security" personnel at public places.
I remember the night of the first-ever high school football game at Big Cat Stadium. As I recall, the Tigers were playing Minnewaska Area. Our community leaders must have had some delusions of grandeur about the place. They felt they had to chase away any people who might be able to get a glimpse of the field without having to pay. I found right away getting such a glimpse was easy. You can get an excellent view of the field from the south sidewalk leading from the P.E. Center.
I was making my evening rounds on bicycle. I went to the stadium not as a freeloading fan because my intent was to just "check it out," to be there maybe ten minutes maximum. I'm sure my main purpose that night was to stop by Westwood Apartments and check on a friend who was dealing with Parkinson's.
I parked my bike and headed over to that sidewalk to see what a high school football game would look like at the new field. Obviously there are no restrictions to access to that sidewalk on a normal day. As an aside, allow me to recall that this sidewalk got used less after the RFC opened. No longer could you enter the P.E. Center for a basketball game at the south entrance. Then-coach Jim Severson told me why, as if I'd have trouble figuring it out. "They want you to see the RFC," he told me. This would be accomplished through use of the north entrance. The urgency for everyone to "see the RFC" was of course a selling job.
Anyway, that south sidewalk (on the north side of the field of course) affords a surprisingly good view of the field. I'm surprised the facility was designed this way. On day #1 for high school football, the powers that be determined they needed to keep an eye on the sidewalk and possibly other perches.
Who were "the powers that be?"
Because Big Cat is a joint project, involving not just UMM, we can't answer that question automatically. Big Cat Stadium has the feel of being part of the UMM campus. But the public school is equally involved. So we can't be sure who makes some of the decisions. That's a drawback to a "cooperative" arrangement. A town leader told me once that the state's leaders were giddy about the cooperative example being set by our Big Cat Stadium.
I should insert that this time of year (winter), Big Cat sits there for months being good for absolutely nothing.
I was standing on the sidewalk just prior to the start of that first-ever prep game. Along comes a young man, looking like a UMM student and wearing a sweatshirt or T-shirt with a reference to Big Cat Stadium on the front. "Hello," he says. I turn, face him and rather self-consciously return the greeting. I'm not certain his "hello" was an innocent or well-intentioned one. Not wanting to assume the worst, I said "hello" back to him in a heartfelt way. But it couldn't end there.
"Are you here for the game?" he asked. I answered that I was just stopping by to get a look at the spread. I then got the impression I was illegal. On a public sidewalk. He kept walking past me, not pausing to make meaningful interaction, and retorted something to the effect that "we don't want people watching the game from here."
OK, who is "we?"
I felt like tracking down good ol' Chuck Grussing and sharing my views on this experience. I didn't at the time. Eventually I had occasion to speak to the genial and now-retired Mr. Grussing. Did he really have to retire when he did? The circumstances under which I spoke to him were novel. It was at a time when I was attempting one of my occasional "comebacks" as a distance runner. I made the mistake of being out running on the day of the Tinman Triathlon in April. This can cause confusion. I saw a "water station" and immediately realized I probably shouldn't be out running. I wasn't a participant.
Finally I stopped running when I got out to the bypass. Chuck Grussing was positioned out there in connection with the Tinman. So we chatted a little. I told him my little story about my experience on that first-ever night for high school football at Big Cat. I had felt offended. This young man who accosted me on that night was a volunteer on behalf of some public entity. I got the impression as I talked with Grussing that it wasn't UMM campus security. He said that as far as he knew, "the college doesn't care" about some fans watching from that sidewalk or anywhere else outside the complex, for the UMM football games. He couldn't make such an assertion about the high school games.
So he seemed to be implying that the high school enacted some sort of policy, which would mean Mary Holmberg, the then-athletic director, was most likely involved. I could see Mary doing that.
Here's the problem though: A person who has an unpleasant experience on the UMM campus is probably going to hold UMM responsible. This is one of the problems of "cooperative" ownership and operation of an athletic venue.
There is no evidence today that anyone gets "chased" from that sidewalk during any kind of football game. In fact, I'm guessing that the night of my annoying experience may have been the only time they even attempted it.
I asked Chuck why UMM or the high school couldn't install tarp along the fence on the north side of the field, so as to prevent any "free" viewing. He seemed to think the issue was really just a non-issue, no big deal.
I have gone back and forth with my feelings about Big Cat Stadium. I was a skeptic at first. There are strong political pressures in Morris to be totally positive about it. There is a relatively new issue in our broader society that could put a cloud over this facility. The consciousness of football's horrible health consequences for its players has risen dramatically.
For the time being, the sport seems stable. But there are rumblings below the surface. Football will literally die without its feeder system with America's youth. More and more pressures are coming down from the medical community. A strong consensus is building that youth shouldn't be involved in football until age 14. And where do we go from there? Kids who don't play football 'til 14 might develop other interests. I pray they do.
I wondered before the current pro and college season whether I could get myself to watch less football. I was worried that the old habit of feeling attracted to the game would cause me to break down, to dismiss my good judgment. I can now report the results: I was successful in watching far less football! So I'm happy. I only checked occasionally out of curiosity to see if certain teams were "up" or "down."
I had absolutely no emotional investment in the game anymore. I got more emotional reading about how the U of M jettisoned $800,000 to get out of playing a home-and-home series with University of North Carolina. Maybe the 'U' people got the North Carolina football team confused with the basketball team.
Our U of M people would be prescient if they would just start backing away from football. Instead we hear the standard talk of how "we need to be more competitive" etc.
No, let's start putting football aside. As much as many of us swear we'll continue enjoying football, how it's as American as apple pie etc., it's really out of our hands. There are forces far more powerful here, namely the insurance companies and lawyers.
Many of us get annoyed by seat belt citations which can seem like overzealous law enforcement. But the powers that be insist, emotionally, that such enforcement is necessary to promote safety. We are a society trying to eliminate all risk, which is a philosophical matter I could expound upon in another post. So we also hear the refrain from some about how armed guards are necessary at all the nation's schools. Ron Paul totally shakes his head. He is an outlier sometimes with his blunt wisdom. He says simply that total safety and security are unattainable, and it would be bad to give the state such absolute power to be out and about with firearms.
Football will die because we don't want to see an appreciable segment of U.S. males begin to develop cognitive issues when in their 50s. They'll develop dependence for one thing. In a time when medical science is miraculously extending lifespans, we need to ensure people can maintain optimum health for as long as possible.
And no one is going to remember you were on a football team that beat Montevideo 20-12 twenty years ago.
I decided to sing the praises of Big Cat Stadium for a while, but I won't anymore. I'll be dismissed (again) as a contrarian. So be it.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - email@example.com