NFL's Henderson brothers ride a gift horse to Aberdeen

Elsewhere in today's edition of The Record there's a news story about a gift of $20,000 the brothers E.J. and Erin Henderson have offered to their alma mater, Aberdeen High School, toward the purchase and installation of a new, state-of-art scoreboard for the school's football stadium.

The gift comes with strings attached: The brothers, who were both star players for the University of Maryland and are now linebackers for the NFL Minnesota Vikings, want the school to rename the stadium "Henderson Field" and permanently display the family name on the scoreboard. (Perhaps "name" the stadium is a better word choice, since it's not clear to me if the stadium in fact has a formal name.)

The county school board is conflicted about the gift and has thus far rebuffed it. The cost of the scoreboard is $56,000 not counting installation. Supposedly, the football boosters will raise the rest. It was vaguely explained at Monday's school board meeting that the Hendersons would put something toward the installation cost. Maintenance would be the school's responsibility.

Let's get one thing out of the way. The Hendersons are no doubt well paid in their current trade and to some people, $20,000 may not seem like much. That's still a lot of money where I come from, however, and, frankly, while there are many generous people in Harford County who have helped out our public schools with gifts of money over the years, there are many more of significant means who choose to take their charitable endeavors elsewhere. That's fine; your money is yours to do what you wish with it.

The school system appears to have an ambiguous policy at best about naming facilities and accepting gifts. During Monday's school board debate on the Hendersons' offer, the Fallston High precedent was raised.

After the 2004 death in Iraq of Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle, the school's first graduate to be killed in combat and a former Fallston High football player, a community effort was launched to name the Fallston High football stadium (again an unnamed facility) after him. A previous school board and superintendent rejected the request, citing a policy of naming facilities only after educators or people who have made significant contributions to education — or words to that effect. Not long afterward, the school system commissioned its no names memorial at headquarters dedicated to all Harford school students killed in service to their country.

At the time, I was angered enough about the Adle snub to write a column about it The Aegis. This was also about the same time the boosters in Havre de Grace were raising money and undertaking the construction of the school's James Harris Stadium in memory of a late football coach and teacher.

I had no problem with naming the stadium after Mr. Harris – which fit the school system policy, nor did it appear anyone in the Havre de Grace community did. And, as a Fallston resident, I saw no evidence that our community opposed naming our high school football stadium after Lance Cpl. Adle.

Throughout the debate on "Adle Field," the words "old enough to kill but not for votin'" from the '60s protest song "Eve of Destruction," seemed to ring true when it came to Lance Cpl. Adle: He wasn't a star player or student. He enlisted not long after 9/11. He got killed in a faraway place essentially for pursuing his personal values. Some people in his home community wanted to honor him and his patriotism but, oh no, naming some grass, dirt and concrete after him was not allowed by the authorities, most of whom I suspect had never in their lives looked down the wrong end of a gun.

The current school board was certainly justified in arguing about the consistency of the naming policy with regard to the Hendersons' gift because the policy doesn't make sense in the contemporary world. At a time when we have schools in Harford County with no heat, no water and unsafe playgrounds and some $250 million in cumulative public debt from school construction, our school system is going to have to rely more and more on private sources for capital to correct inequities in its facilities. Otherwise, the broken down ones will still be broken down and the nice and shiny ones will still be nice and shiny, and that's wrong.

I'm sure that some will say that equating a football scoreboard to having no heat in a school building is disingenuous at best, but face the facts: The Hendersons – who still come back to Aberdeen every off-season and work with young people – are professional football players. They learned their trade at Aberdeen High School. They are no different from a general, a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist or a Hall of Fame baseball player. They have succeeded in their chosen profession; now they want to share their success with others and to associate their names with their success and their generosity.

Are you kidding? Are we really having this discussion?

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