Originally created 09/10/04

Graduation will be held at stadiums



The home turf wins.

In a 5-3 vote, the Richmond County Board of Education voted Thursday to hold graduations for seven high schools at their home football stadiums this spring.

Only Lucy. C. Laney High School and the two senior-level magnet schools, which do not have stadiums, will hold commencement at Bell Auditorium.

Despite concerns about bad weather and parking expressed by board members Andrew Jefferson, Helen Minchew and Jeff Padgett, other trustees favored stadium graduations. Board members Y.N. Myers Jr. and Johnny Hatney were absent.

Board member Kenneth Echols said he got only positive response from parents and families about the trial run last year.

But Mr. Jefferson said he could not "in good conscience" support outdoor graduation because of complaints. He said senior citizens complained about having to park far away and walk, about the rough terrain and about inaccessibility for handicapped people.

Board member Marion Barnes expressed a concern that students had not been polled as the board mentioned earlier this year. Superintendent Charles Larke said there was not time to poll students because invitations have to be ordered and a decision on locations needed to be made.

But principals were polled, and those with stadiums were unanimous in supporting graduations at home. In previous years, graduations were held at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center and Bell Auditorium.

Mrs. Minchew said she worries bad weather would make graduation chaotic because it would force ceremonies to gymnasiums.

"Most gymnasiums are not air conditioned, and that's our back-up," she said.

She said out-of-town relatives who were turned away from gymnasiums would be outraged.

Mr. Padgett agreed. As it was, hundreds of people had to stand up at Hephzibah High School in May, he said. Taking it inside because of weather could be disastrous, a good reason it should be returned to the civic center, he said.

"I don't see gambling with the most important event in a child's life," Mr. Padgett said.

Dates and times for graduations were not finalized Thursday night, but school officials are leaning toward having them over three days at different times to allow families to attend ceremonies at more than one school.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.