Monday Briefing: The best stadium in the country for only $7M

I spent about half of my first decade in journalism covering sports, having worked the first few years of my career as a sportswriter in California. I’ve been to hundreds of stadiums in two of the biggest states.

I’d never seen anything quite like the athletic facilities I saw while covering Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse in the state championships Saturday at Middletown High School in Middletown, N.Y.

The multi-purpose stadium — which also hosts soccer, football and track and field events — has to be among the best in the U.S. It’s larger and equipped with more bells and whistles than many college or minor league stadiums I’ve come across.

The scoreboard has an HD video screen on it, which played replays throughout Saturday’s game — something we take for granted at professional events, but you’d be hard pressed to find it at a high school.

The track around the turf field has sensors so runners’ times are synched up with the scoreboard and spectators can get instant results as the runners cross the finish line.

The turf field is Class One FIFA approved, meaning it can host international soccer matches, an extremely rare distinction for a school field.

On the ride home, I was thinking to myself:  Just how much did this cost? How much do these people pay in taxes to have such a state-of-the-art facility at their local school?

From what I’ve since read, it appears the school used just $7 million in Excel aid for the stadium. Ironically, that’s the same dollar amount Riverhead asked its taxpayers for to build a new gym this past year, a measure that was voted down. Per pupil spending in Middletown is actually about $2,000 less than in Riverhead.

RICH BARNES PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River coaches celebrate in front of the video monitor in Middletown Saturday.

Now just to be clear, Middletown is not exactly high school heaven. The district’s image has suffered dramatically from several scandals in the past decade, including one very similar to the recent controversy at Penn State.

But what they’ve done with their stadium is a miracle.

The New York State Public School boys soccer championships moved from Oneonta, home of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, to Middletown. The state has even extended that arrangement through 2014.

The economic impact of such championships is fairly significant in the relatively small upstate city, population 33,000. People spent the night and frequent the stores. The hotels and restaurants fill up.

It’s an investment in the students and the community that appears to have really worked.

In one story I read this weekend, the school’s superintendent called it the best high school stadium in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine it’s not.

After the game Saturday, I went to the new Yankee Stadium. The next day it was the field in Middletown that I was talking about.

• I hope the folks at Shoreham-Wading River took notes on that stadium this weekend. Boosters there are looking to renovate the school’s field using donations.

• And how about those Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse teams both winning championships in the same year for the second time in six seasons.

• Sorry for being so sports heavy in this column the past couple weeks, but here’s a sports item that has to do with excellence in the classroom.

• Speaking of fine accomplishments by local students, how about the local players at the Teeny Awards.

• Due to some rough deadlines and scheduling conflicts, I’ve been forced to scrap my local history column the past few weeks. I’ve received a couple queries about it and I just want to assure people it will return this week. Look for that in the coming days.

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