Gateway Sun

In towns all across the United States, Friday nights in the fall mean just one thing: the community gathering together to show unwavering spirit and support for the local high school football team.

Chris Morant, the head coach of the Gateway Griffins, wants his players to experience just that.

For the past few years Griffins players have been bused 30 minutes to East Lee County High School to play their home games. So when the players arrive at the stadium, they’re greeted with signage reminding them that they’re at the ‘Home of the Jaguars’.

Not the Griffins.

Doesn’t exactly scream ‘home field advantage’.

Such is life when your school is owned by a for-profit corporation named Charter Schools USA – a company who won’t even provide the money for the high school to have a library.

Let that sink in for a minute. At least as of last year, Gateway Charter High School … has no library.

So with that fiscal mindset from CSUSA, you can imagine just how eager they would be to shell out money for a football field.

Yep. Zero chance.

I had seen that organization operate from the parental perspective for four years and hated it.

Oh, we tried to leave. We enrolled our children in Lee County Schools multiple times for the express purpose of leaving Gateway Charter. But we had no luck having been assigned undesirable public schools, so we re-enrolled in Gateway Charter. At least it was close.

Last year I’d had enough and moved our heaven and Earth (literally) to get our kids assigned to Riverdale and Varsity Lakes. This time, we hit the jackpot and bid adieu to Gateway Charter forever.

I was baffled when I came across a report in the News-Press from the beginning of the football season quoting Coach Morant that the school was going to build a stadium for its football team in time for next season.

Are they finally getting it, I wondered? Did Principal Sara Abraham and the rest of her miserly crew at Charter Schools USA realize that there’s more to the high school experience than just teachers and books and budgets and profits for the corporate offices in Fort Lauderdale?

Nope. Zero chance.

“When our coach was interviewed for the article, he was new and a little enthusiastic about a grant we applied for. We are still waiting for information on the grant and have no further details at this point, but we do not have plans to have a stadium ready for 2017,” said Kelly Weeks, assistant principal of the high school.

(Ahhh.. So basically, when the school recruited the coach, they told him “You’ll have a proper field to play on”… and now they’ve pulled the rug out from underneath him… I wonder how many coaches they’ve pulled that trick on over the years.)

In the time that had passed since I contacted Weeks for comment and she replied, Coach Morant forwarded me various details and budget information. He’s mapped out what it would take to have the stadium ready in time for the 2017 season.

So I pressed Weeks again.

Replied Weeks: “As I stated yesterday, we have no firm plans to build a stadium in 2017.”

So it appears what’s going on is that Coach Morant is on his own. If he wants a true home football field for his players he’s going to have to get it done himself. Including coming up with the money.

Coach Morant told the Gateway Sun that he’s currently $60,000 shy of having the funds to build his facility.

Looking at the documentation Morant provided me I would have to imagine it’s a pretty basic football stadium for the relatively low amount of money involved. But at least it would be in Gateway.

According to Morant, the proposed new stadium would be built where the team currently practices: a make-shift field along Daniels Parkway that is also used by the high school and middle schools for gym class activities.

Coach Morant says that if a business was able to come through with the final sum needed, that he’s confident that company would receive naming rights to the stadium for 12 years, complete with signage.

When you consider how many millions of people drive by that piece of land each month, then consider it breaks down to $417 per month over the 12 years … it might make sense for a company who wants to make a long-term advertising commitment to the Gateway market.

Coach Morant, unlike Vice-Principal Weeks, clearly hasn’t given up on getting a field built based on his correspondence with me. That kind of never-say-die attitude is exactly what his players need and should be made aware of. And it’s also how he’s helped hundreds of young men from Southwest Florida make the jump from high school football to the NCAA throughout his coaching career.

Of course, $60,000 isn’t chump change so Morant is facing fourth-and-long to get it done by 2017, or at all. But it’s certainly a sum that Charter Schools USA could budget for and have time to get the field built by 2018.

The question is whether CSUSA will unclench their fists and have a few less dollars in order to give Gateway Charter’s students and parents the chance to experience Friday Night Lights in a stadium located in Gateway that features the Griffins logo?

Sorry. Zero chance.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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