Stadium lights won't be the burden 'vocal minority' claims

Opinion

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Teresa Blomquist's letter ("D200 board should remember this is OP, not Wrigleyville," June 22) calling for the rejection of lights at the OPRF High School stadium is part of a well-orchestrated effort by a small but vocal group of neighbors to distort and obfuscate an issue of importance to present and future students of the school. Her husband stood up at the Booster Club's presentation to the school board on June 16 and made the same arguments virtually word for word. Let's set the record straight without resorting to histrionics:

Myth: Lights would "supersize" the school's playing fields and "there are signs teenagers are encouraged to overdo" sports.

Fact: The field is not being "supersized"; only lights are being added. Lights at the stadium would bring more practices on-campus, under the control of the school. Not having lights at the stadium would not diminish the level of sports participation: School officials would have no choice but to continue practicing at remote locations, incurring additional expense and potential liability for the school. At our presentation, we provided factual data that the numbers of students participating in sports and sports-related activities (e.g. drill team, band) at OPRF continues to grow, especially girls. Numerous studies support that sports participation enhances student academic performance.

Myth: Night games will generate high electricity bills, more litter and noise, and lights would keep neighbors up late.

Fact: Each of these points was addressed at the Boosters' presentation, and if approved, we believe that the high school would be sensitive to each of these concerns. Money spent on lighting bills would be offset by savings in not transporting athletes to remote off-campus practice fields. Litter and noise mitigation can be resolved. The high school shuts off the Lake Street field lights at 8:00 p.m.

Distortion: Lights would make Oak Park more like Wrigleyville. Apples and oranges. Without speculating whether this slight was coming from a White Sox fan (I believe the exact words her husband used was "the tawdriness of Wrigleyville"), comparing a night game with a few thousand (non-drinking) fans at OPRF's stadium with 40,000 party-goers at Wrigley Field is ludicrous. There is no Murphy's Bleachers or Cubby Bear next to our stadium, and the last I checked, Tasty Dog doesn't serve alcohol. Besides, I haven't read about any Wrigleyville residents complaining about their property values since lights were installed at Wrigley Field (also a historic district).

Myth: Harm to Oak Park's historic character makes stadium lights undesirable. Reality check: Let's face it folks, we live in an urban environment. Peace and quiet and pastoral living exist outside of Oak Park and River Forest. On Keystone Avenue where I live, nary a day goes by without construction crews lining and littering the street, dogs that aren't curbed, and yes, lights down at Keystone Park in the evening. I walk home in the evenings from the River Forest train station, and I'm here to tell you that the light spillage from east Keystone Park is such that west Keystone Park and Lake Street are virtually as dark as they were before lights. But guess what? You deal with all of this, because that's the nature of the community we chose to live in, and I wouldn't trade it. The vocal minority would have you believe that this is a bad, bad idea, but the Booster Club has collected (at this point) the signatures of 1,700-plus residents who disagree.

Contrary to un-neighborly allegations made by this vocal minority at our presentation, the high school has been a good neighbor. Witness the parking garage and more restrictive parking ordinances around the school. How about the jogging track around the Lake Street field, popular with many neighbors? What about all of the community events and programs hosted at the school? If the school board, in cooperation with the village approves lights, I'm confident the school would supervise night time sports events in a responsible manner. For more information on lights at the stadium, visit www.oprflights.com.

Chuck Race
River Forest

Chuck Race writes a soccer column for WEDNESDAY JOURNAL and is the soccer representative for the OPRFHS Booster Club.

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