Here I am setting in the Principals office again, only this time I’m 28 years old. I have been in this office before, it had a new paint job and a different cast in the family vacations photos on the wall but it still gave me the same feeling.
In the midst of my hectic search for front page sports news I had an epiphany; “isn’t Phelps supposed to play their first home football game tonight?” The answer to this question required more than a phone call so I packed up and headed to my old alma-mater to get the scoop, as we say in the news industry.
Principal Mike Hamilton sat stern in his swivel chair and tried his hardest to give me the most intimidating look he could muster, maybe to see if he still had the touch. I returned the glance and proved him wrong. I am almost thirty now Mike your powers will not work on me anymore. I would refer to you as Mikey if I wasn’t such a professional newsman.
I said, “Mr. Hamilton let’s get down to brass tax here, tell me where we are with the football field, it’s imperative that I know.” He settled into his chair and told me everything; it turned out to be a very pleasant conversation despite the venue.
The Hornets are really shooting to make the deadline. The last four years for them have been a headache to say the least. “When we started this we never dreamed it would be four years later and we would still be pushing the project along.” I already knew a lot of the gossip that surrounded why the field and athletic complex had been delayed so long, because I grew up in Phelps. I hear things.
“We will not be playing a home game tomorrow night, sadly,” said Hamilton.
Mr. Hamilton answered my questions before I could ask them, you could tell he had been answering these for longer than he wanted to. “As of right now we are scheduled to be operational by early October, we have two home games scheduled that month, one is on the 2nd and the other is on the 8th,” said Hamilton. They are hoping there’s a chance they can play their homecoming game on the new field by the 2nd but are expecting they will be able to play on the 8th.
He told me all the ins-and-outs of the project. The foundation of everything they will need is already in place, the concrete pad is ready for the bleachers to be erected, the holes are in place for the light poles and scoreboard, the electrical and plumbing work is on the verge of commencing. The concession stand is halfway through construction and is beginning to take shape.
Hamilton explained that the biggest problem the project faces would be another unforeseen delay. He explained the last delay happened because there was a dangerous rock formation that was neatly concealed and had been undetected until a professional inspector pointed it out and explained that they could take care of it now or wait two years and remove the bleachers and remove it then. Hamilton said they chose to take care of it now. It’s a smart move I believe even though they are rapidly approaching the new scheduled completion date.
The main concern that Hamilton has to consider is safety. Everyone wants everything done but when making decisions about how and when to proceed he has to keep safety in the front of his mind. It would be great for the seniors to be able to play a home game on the new field but that dream would quickly be overshadowed by an incident caused by hasty construction procedures.
Principal Hamilton and the Hornet community are now putting their faith in the hands of Elliot Contracting Inc. to finish all applicable construction before the scheduled date. Principal Hamilton explained that everything must be done with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s specifications in mind. There is no need to do all of this work and have to turn right around and redo it because we missed a regulation.
The Hornets have had their nose to the grindstone for a long time with this project. They have lost athletes, fans and supporters because of their lack of a football program. The players play ball wherever they are allowed, they hop from one place to another. Mr. Hamilton explained how generous Belfry Middle School has been with letting them utilize Vipperman Stadium for their scheduled home games. The problem with that is in order to get to Belfry the school buses have to travel all the way up to Johns Creek and then Back down 119 because the shortest route is not capable of accommodating buses. Luckily Johns Creek Elementary is letting the Hornets play home games on their field to help cut down travel time for the team.
The project of the new athletic complex has followed along with Murphy’s Law very closely. What was supposed to take a year is now challenging highway construction projects for the longest time taken to complete.
“We are so close to being able to move forward now, this has been an ordeal since the beginning but it will all be worth it once we can move into our own athletic complex and start to build our programs back.” Phelps has taken plenty of big hits over the years and unintentionally has ended up as the runt of the Pike County Schooling system. They can’t consolidate, they can’t recruit because they practice on a creek bank, and they have nowhere to play, the only thing they have to look forward to is the new field and that is taking forever.
Needless to say I left the meeting with Mr. Hamilton feeling a little down. I love this place and this community; I want things to be better for them.
I needed a picture to go with my story so my next stop was obviously the football field. From the road the only progress that is visible is the bright neon-yellow goal posts that are contrasted against the blue sky. Once I pulled into the parking lot I could see why Mr. Hamilton exuberated so much hope for the future fruition of the project. The only thing that was really missing was the tall standing structures.
The project didn’t look so far-fetched from that angle, I found myself looking at it as if I could already see everything finished. I could see a sea of blue shirts perched up against the hillside and the dark green tint that lies in the corners under field lighting. I could hear cheering and whistles blowing.
Turns out the blowing was an excavator operator urging me to get out of the way before I became cemented into the stadium as an cautionary inspiration instead of a spectator. There were bright neon-green shirts everywhere. The construction crew was really in high gear, even at mid-day.
I walked into the foreman’s office and introduced myself, he was happy to tell me that they really believe they will get it done in time. He told me about the scheduled delivery dates of important structures. He told me this is where we will be by the end of this week and that is where we will be by the end of next week. He explained that the heavy work was finishing up and that all that was left was cosmetic work, constructively speaking. That last pun was horrible.
It’s at the maybe they will or maybe they won’t point right now. The construction crews have been working overtime and the finished structure is still yet to be inspected and given the states final seal of approval as ready to accommodate.
I shouldn’t have, because being unbiased is like rule number two of my job, but I can’t lie and say I didn’t get filled with Hornet hope in the middle of a construction zone as I day dreamed about night games in the middle of the afternoon. If the first home game happens this season I will be there to tell the world about it. Win or lose if I know Phelps like I think I know Phelps that place will be a hair raising shin dig.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)