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Aberdeen community upset, confused after school board's rejection of Henderson donation

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

6:47 PM EST, November 17, 2011

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The Aberdeen community has been left upset and confused over the Harford County Board of Education's decision Monday to decline a $20,000 donation from E.J. and Erin Henderson for a new scoreboard for the high school.

During the weekly board meeting, members went back and forth about whether to accept the donation from the former Aberdeen High School football players and current Minnesota Viking linebackers, a proposal Superintendent Robert Tomback supported. If the donation were accepted, the school's football field would have been named after the Hendersons, but was ultimately rejected by five of the nine voting members.

Several reasons for rejecting the offer, as discussed by board members, were a vague school policy on naming rights of athletic facilities, a previous board's decision to not name Fallston High School's field after former captain of the football team, Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle, who was killed in action in Iraq, and the impression that the Hendersons would not make the donation if the field wasn't named after the family.

"Not true," former Aberdeen High School coach and family friend Stephen Davis said.

Davis, who still lives in Aberdeen and keeps in touch with the Hendersons, said having the field named after the family wasn't their idea in the first place, though he wasn't sure whose it was.

He was surprised to learn about the board's decision, as were many members of the community, including E.J. Henderson, Davis said.

"Friends and family are upset with things said at the board meeting," he went on. Davis described the family as "well mannered" and as being "respected in the area," and was surprised to hear that the board thought the Hendersons wouldn't give the money if their name wasn't on the field.

"It's not all about the publicity and the recognition to them," he explained. Though he didn't want to speak for the family, Davis' opinion is they still would have made the donation even without the naming rights. "People just thought it was a good idea they named it Henderson Field."

Davis said he and E.J. Henderson spoke early on Thursday, and "he wasn't upset," but more confused and surprised over what was said at Monday's meeting.

"[With] him being so busy and not knowing the process," Davis said of Henderson, "he was just trying to figure out what the problem was."

Former teammates of Henderson's also spoke with Davis, as well as other members of the Aberdeen community, and "were upset with the way it was portrayed that they would only help out if their name was put on there." Davis also felt it wasn't fair for board member Robert Frisch to bring up Erin Henderson's four-game suspension in December 2009 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

"It had no reason to be brought up," he commented.

Board of Education Vice President Rick Grambo also thought it was unnecessary for the issue to be discussed, as did President Leonard Wheeler, who asked Frisch to "stay with the facts" and "not make allegations."

"It wasn't our place to judge potential donors as long as we didn't have an egregious problem, and we should let the local townspeople make that decision," Grambo said. Grambo had voted to accept the donation during Monday's meeting.

While he doesn't know where the matter goes from here, Grambo thinks "it's a good topic and I think it merits further discussion, hopefully as group, and make a good decision on it."

As for the Aberdeen community, "a lot of people would like to see things get done," Grambo commented.