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Whatever happened to the 'community' in Harford Community College? [Commentary]

Current Harford Community College trustee John Haggery, top, stands with his crew at Thomas Run Park in 1993, the late Bob Coale, center, and the late Jerry Bounds. Haggerty has been uncharacteristically mute about the way the college administation has handled the management of what it now calls Harford Sports Complex.
Current Harford Community College trustee John Haggery, top, stands with his crew at Thomas Run Park in 1993, the late Bob Coale, center, and the late Jerry Bounds. Haggerty has been uncharacteristically mute about the way the college administation has handled the management of what it now calls Harford Sports Complex. (AEGIS ARCHIVE PHOTO, The Aegis)

Sometimes the arrogance of public officials is hard to comprehend.

Take, for instance, the public relations disaster leaders at Harford Community College have brought upon themselves and their institution over the fee increases to use the public ball fields at the college.

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Instead of going to the people from the various baseball and softball leagues that use the fields and explaining the need to increase revenue to pay for a new turf field and the cost of operating the complex and working out some reasonable plan, college officials unilaterally imposed outsized fee increases and told the sports leagues to like it or lump it.

Some leaders of the leagues cried "foul," complained to state legislators and others, made their case in the media and elsewhere and forced the college officials to negotiate a more reasonable set of increases.

HCC President Dennis Golladay last week tried to brush off the whole incident as one that would have been resolved amicably even if the league officials hadn't taken their case to the public. But Golladay misses the point. None of the back and forth over the past four months would have been necessary if Golladay hadn't been so arrogant about this in the first place by drawing a proverbial line in the sand.

What's worse, to my thinking, is the college's board of trustees backed Golladay and, by his silence, that includes board member John Haggerty, the one board member who, in my opinion, knows what the ball fields mean to the community.

Haggerty has been uncharacteristically mute about how the college has managed what it now calls "Harford Sports Complex."

A little history lesson is in order at this point. The fields in front of the college that most of you and I know as Thomas Run Park, not the homogenized name Golladay and his minions have given it, took a community effort to happen, and that's c-o-m-m-u-n-i-t-y for those of you spelling at home.

Around 1980 or so, then-county executive Tom Barranger proposed that Harford build a regional baseball and softball complex similar to the Upton Park complex in northern Anne Arundel County that was by then a few years old and considered a state-of-the-art venue for amateur athletic contests. Mr. Barranger was friendly with his counterpart in Anne Arundel County, Robert Pascal, and the two had talked often about the benefits of a place like Upton Park from having a centralized place to play to the big tournaments that could be held, attracting teams from the region and beyond.

A onetime youth football coach, Mr. Barranger, who died three years ago, also thought all the high school football fields in the county ought to have lights, even if the county had to pay for them, which had never been the case before. Mr. Barranger also was briefly the lacrosse coach at HCC, hired by his friend and mentor, John Haggerty, who was then the college's athletic director. He likewise cultivated friendships with many prominent people in the local amateur baseball and softball communities, among them the late Bob Coale.

The idea of a regional baseball/softball didn't happen during Mr. Barranger's brief time as county executive. He was defeated for re-election in 1982, but the idea didn't leave office with him.

Fast forward a few years. Our next door neighbor in Bel Air, Bill Cox, who was a member of the House of Delegates from 1971 to 1991, told me Friday that he believes it was John Haggerty, with the backing of then-HCC president Alfred O'Connell, went to then-senator Bill Amoss seeking state funds to build a complex on the vacant fields in front of the college, along Route 22, that at the time were leased to the Harford Sod Company of Forest Hill and being used to grow sod.

"Amoss wasn't getting anything from the governor [William Donald Schaefer] because Bill kept voting against all of [Schaefer's] tax increases," Cox recalled. "We worked it out, Amoss, [senator] Cathy Riley, [delegate] Eileen Rehrmann, myself. It was a team effort. We got money, I can't remember how much, maybe $500,000; it's possible we went back a second time. We put the money into the statewide community college funding bill."

Cox says he has no doubt Haggerty was the main force behind the plan. At the time, he recalled, many teen and adult softball league games were played on the lighted field at Bel Air Elementary School, along Lee Street. Cox had secured funding for a new school building, but the plan involved putting the new school on the athletic fields and then tearing down the old school. (The new building was completed in 1984 – a promised lighted replacement field on the site of the torn down building never happened.)

"I took a lot of heat from the softball people, who were upset they were going to lose that field," Cox said. "I was happy to support the proposal for the fields at the college."

Cox also said the deal was always for the fields to belong to and be controlled by the college. "That's the only way we could have gotten the money," he said. "It was the college's land. The money to build the fields, the lights, went to them. They controlled everything."

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Like me, Cox seemed a little surprised about the current animosity that's built up between the college and the people whose teams use the fields. After all, we both reasoned, if the outside leagues don't use the fields, what would be the purpose of having them, and who would pay for the cost of maintaining them?

After Haggerty retired as HCC's athletic director, he became manager of the baseball/softball complex. I found a photograph from an article we published in 1993 about the new complex showing Haggerty with his two assistants, Mr. Coale and the late Jerry Bounds. On a chain link fence behind them is a sign that reads: "Thomas Run Park" and next to it the HCC logo.

Regular readers of this column will recall that shortly after Mr. Barranger died in March 2011, I advocated renaming the complex in his memory. I still think it's the right thing to do. Anything is better than Harford Sports Complex; anything, that is, except Golladay Field.

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