Staff Photo by Patrick MacCoon / Sale Creek junior quarterback Braden Penny looks to help lead the program to its first winning season in school history. The Panthers have a loaded offensive line and hope to set new marks in 2019.

Sale Creek Middle/High School's football team will finally have a home field.

The Hamilton County Board of Education approved a $5.75 million budget amendment Thursday night that allocates $2.5 million to turn Sale Creek's practice field into a real stadium.

Quarterback Braden Penny, a junior, said opening his senior-year season next fall on home turf is a dream come true.

"It's going to be packed," Penny said. "I think me and the team are just so excited to be the first group of kids to play on the new field."

For the majority of the seven years that the program has been in existence, players and fans had to make an almost 30-mile hike to play their games at Finley Stadium.

"We've never really had the ability to have a home game," said assistant football coach Roy Shipley, who has been with the program since its start seven years ago. "This is an absolute dream come true."

School Principal Tobin Davidson echoed Shipley.

"It's nothing like Friday Night Lights," Davidson said. He said he had heard students ask for years why they didn't have their own stadium.

"And there wasn't a good answer," he said. "We finally have a home that's truly in our community."

Though the school has a practice field near campus, it has had to scrape bits and pieces together from the community even to make that happen.

Over the years, Hamilton County commissioners have used discretionary funds to help build the field. Tyner Academy donated an old scoreboard and the school salvaged old goal posts from Red Bank — but the school district hadn't supported the team financially.

District 1 board member Rhonda Thurman represents Sale Creek. Holding back tears Thursday, she said it was time that the district got some "skin in the game."

"I can't tell you how excited I am. This has been a long time coming," Thurman said. "This is to put bleachers, lights, dressing rooms, bathrooms and concession stands. I cannot tell you how excited I am. It has come a long way, thanks to the community."

The board unanimously approved the $5.75 million budget allocation Thursday, which was the result of unexpected savings and revenue. The remaining amount will help build five new digital fabrication labs — one in each learning community — and gives teachers an additional $555 bonus on top of the $1,500 approved in the original fiscal year 2020 budget.

The stadium is expected to be completed in time for the 2020-21 season, Shipley said.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.