Cook: What Howard High teens can teach Hamilton County officials

Cook: What Howard High teens can teach Hamilton County officials

March 19th, 2017 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Howard player #7 puts on his hat in the makeshift dugout before Howard's first home baseball game in years at Howard High School on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The community rallied to donate materials, and the team and volunteers worked to restore the field for the school's baseball program.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: No longer a dream: Howard plays on home baseball field

more photos

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.


Wednesday afternoon's baseball game at Howard School wasn't cold. Sure, it was barely 40 degrees, with a bitter wind, but please. That's nothing when, just four days earlier, you worked a 14-hour day, through two sleet storms and one snowfall, to make sure your baseball field was game-ready.

Cold was back in January, when the shovels and tillers and rakes froze to your hands and the ground was as hard as a Bob Feller fastball.

Related Article

No longer a dream: Howard plays on home baseball field [photos]

Read more

Wednesday's weather?

A can of corn.

"We weren't used to playing in the cold," said Cameron Thomas, "but we were used to working in it."

Down 7-0 in the first inning of a doubleheader against Central High, Cameron, the senior catcher and team leader, was hit by a pitch, stole second, then made it home on a wild throw, scoring the first run of this newly resurrected chapter in Howard's baseball program.

"It was great," he said. "I scored the first run on the field we created."

It began months ago. Cameron and other seniors met Jon Johnson, Spanish teacher and baseball coach, who had a vision that the neglected, sandlot-pasture field could become a place for baseball and so much more: community, fellowship, deep growth.

All winter, they worked. Saturdays. Sundays. Eight days a week, if they could.

Wednesday, the once-unplayable field was "Beauty and the Beast" transformed: A green grass infield. Domed pitcher's mound. New fence, scoreboard and proud flagpole just beyond centerfield.

"This is a celebration," Johnson said just before the first pitch — a one-hopper to home plate by Councilman Chip Henderson — while 100 or so fans huddled in blankets and thick coats.

Wednesday's score? Who cares? The larger score was this: hope won. Resilience and grit won. Community compassion and support won. We all won.

"We made people believe again," Cameron said.

"Hit it to the Westside," one Howard player yelled.

I hope every Howard player puts a photo of that field on their college application and resume.

We built this.

We did.

Not the county.

Not the county.

I spent most of the game standing along the first base line, cheering. Yet every so often, I'd turn and look around across campus.

Down at the Howard track, crumbling like peanut brittle.

Related Article

Cook: The resurrection of Howard baseball

Read more

Related Article

Cook: Howard baseball's future ain't what it used to be

Read more

Related Article

Cook: The pope, 'Hamilton' and Howard baseball

Read more

And the Howard stadium, in need of millions in repairs.

The Howard softball field, barely playable.

The school itself has another $5 million in needs.

You can't fundraise that.

This Howard baseball story? It's gloriously feel-good, but it should not let the Hamilton County school board and County Commission off the hook.

Those are their stadium and fields to maintain. Their school.

And they haven't.

Across the county, there's $182 million in new construction needs and another $200 million in deferred maintenance needs; students go to schools with the infrastructure of second-world, developing nations.

Roofs leak. Mold grows. At Harrison Elementary, sewage backs up into the hallways.

At Tyner Middle, the HVAC system is 40 years old. So is Orchard Knob Middle's mechanical system. Fire alarms need upgrading. There's a sinkhole in the field at Soddy-Daisy.

Who's going to crowd-source the $6 million to replace the Center for Creative Arts' HVAC unit? Or the $3.5 million for Dalewood Middle's?

What of the award-winning yet long-neglected Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts? To paraphrase Langston Hughes: How long until their deferred dream explodes?

"Problems like foundation shifts, mice, a leaky roof and walls, crumbling plaster, inadequate bathrooms, a lack of handicap-accessible facilities, and covered walkways between the main building and the portables have left CSLA students out in the cold and the wet for 25 years," wrote Leslie Rice in a recent letter to this newspaper.

"The unwillingness of our local politicians to expand on this success is demoralizing to parents, teachers and students. The voters of Hamilton County should take note."

Yet in the ongoing Hatfield-McCoy animus between the school board and commission, nothing gets solved. The mice are fourth-generation. The mold has mold. Will Nashville pay attention? Washington?

If we love our students, we take care of them. We give them clean, sewage-free hallways. We update the HVAC systems. And make sure the stadiums won't collapse.

The coldest of all?


David Cook, a graduate of Red Bank High and a teacher at McCallie School, writes a Sunday column and can be reached at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315