Harford school board rejects $20,000 donation from pro football brothers for new Aberdeen H.S. scoreboard

The Harford County Board of Education rejected a $20,000 donation from pro football players E.J. and Erin Henderson to help purchase a new electronic scoreboard at Aberdeen High School.

In not accepting the gift, the board members cited their concerns about the ambiguity of the school system's policy of naming facilities after people or corporations.

The brothers, who are both Aberdeen High graduates and linebackers for the Minnesota Vikings, offered $20,000 on the condition that the school's stadium would be named "Henderson Field" and that the family's name is on the scoreboard.

Superintendent Robert Tomback had recommended the board approve the Hendersons' request and for the school system to "procure and install an electronic scoreboard for the amount of $52,555," according to a school document.

Board member Robert Frisch asked at the beginning of the meeting to remove the item from the official agenda, citing concerns with the policy of naming sport facilities.

The board's narrow decision not to accept the donation came on the same night the Hendersons' team, the Vikings, lost their nationally televised game against the Green Bay Packers, 45-7.

Frisch asked the board's lawyer, Patrick Spicer, how a decision on the gift could be made in light of the current policy.

Spicer said the policy "specifically does not include athletic facilities." Because of this, he referred to the policy regarding advertising, which states a permanent advertisement, such as naming a facility after a family or corporation, could be approved by the board if they feel it's consistent with its mission and has approval from the superintendent.

Frisch asked Spicer if the family would still be willing make the donation if the field and scoreboard didn't carry the Henderson name, to which he replied, "no."

Frisch then brought up Erin Henderson's suspension for four games in December 2009 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. According to a Jan. 21, 2010 Baltimore Sun article, Henderson didn't say which specific drug he was suspended for, but said he "didn't do anything wrong," blaming his positive test results on a prescription he had been taking.

Board President Leonard Wheeler, who lives in Aberdeen, told Frisch to "stay with the facts" and "not make allegations" against the Hendersons.

"I'm not comfortable, in essence, selling the naming rights," Frisch said, adding he believes the family should make the donation without having the field named after them.

"What does this leave open in the future," board member Ronald Browning asked, when it comes to accepting other donations with the condition of giving the family naming rights.

Spicer replied that this type of situation isn't new and there are scoreboards in county schools with the names of beverage companies on them. He said the ultimate decision at the board's discretion.

"I think that's a slippery slope," board member James Thornton said.

Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, clarified that corporate sponsors would be obtained to help pay for the remainder of the scoreboard, $32,555.

The Hendersons, however, would be responsible for the board's electrical and technical work, he said. The school's booster club, or some other organization, would raise money to pay for the balance.

Brown also mentioned that no other scoreboards have been named for a former athlete.

Board member Nancy Reynolds asked if the school system would be responsible for all future maintenance of the scoreboard, and Brown replied, "That's my understanding."

Frisch said the situation is one of consistency. He brought up a past instance in which there was an attempt to name the field at Fallston High School after a former captain of the football team, Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle, who was killed in action in Iraq. A previous board turned down the proposal.

"We won't name a field after him [Lance Cpl. Adle], but for $20,000 we'll name a field after someone else?" he asked.

Board Vice President Rick Grambo said it wasn't the board's job to pass judgment on someone who wants to donate money and if the school wants to accept the donation, they should.

"Where do we draw the line?" Frisch replied, again bringing up the Fallston situation. "In absence of a clearly defined policy, then maybe we ought to table this issue for a bit."

Board member Cassandra Beverley asked if the board needed to decide that night; however, Brown said the Hendersons and a company in charge of the scoreboard's installation had already been working with the school and were notified that the superintendent approved the naming rights for the field.

Money has already been exchanged, Brown said, and both the family and company are waiting for the board's approval to move forward. Fundraising has also begun, he said, but if the board didn't approve the decision, the money would be returned.

"Don't we have problems in funding these things?" Browning asked.

At that point, the board voted 5-4 not to accept the Hendersons' offer, with Joseph Hau, Beverley, Frisch, Reynolds and Thornton voting to reject the offer, and Alysson Krchnavy, Browning, Grambo and Wheeler voting to accept it. Student representative also voted against taking the donation, though his vote does not count since he doesn't have voting power.

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