By Leigh Ann McDonald Woodruff
It was at a 2011 girls’ field hockey game played at The Children’s Home when Kathryn Spanos had (what some might call) an epiphany.
Why doesn’t the oldest public high school in Forsyth County have a field of its own for its athletes?
“That afternoon, the referees were late to the field hockey game, and when they did show up, one of them explained that she was called in to work the game at the last minute because no refs wanted to work the Reynolds games because the fields were so uneven at The Children’s Home,” said Spanos. “The refs were worried about getting injured while they were calling the games. Then she asked me, ‘Why don’t you have your own stadium?’ That gave me pause.”
Spanos began asking the questions…“Why doesn’t Reynolds have its own stadium? Why don’t we have a safe field to play on with an on-campus location for all of our sports? Why don’t we have a place where we don’t have to cart in everything for every game — from the PA system to the concessions to the scoreboard?”
Spanos met with Darrell Walker, assistant superintendent with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and they started scouting locations.
“The ‘aha’ moment came when I was waiting for one of my children in the carpool line at Wiley,” said Spanos. “There was an unsightly bus lot, an unmaintained hillside, an outdated gymnasium and two mobile units that occupied what I envisioned as the perfect bowl-shape for a stadium. The property was owned by the school system and could stand to be improved.”
Spanos had the land surveyed to make sure the size was right for the project. Other women with students at Reynolds in 2011 joined her to get the project moving, including Marie Arcuri, Deborah Casstevens, Lynn Gwyn, Lisa Rowell and Michelle Wolfert. They named the campaign the “Home Field Advantage.”
“The Home Field Advantage campaign is about accessibility for all students,” said Arcuri. “Whether a student wants to participate in marching band, football or field hockey — or be a team manager or fan — an on-site stadium facility can be a game changer in a student’s high school experience. As a mother of a daughter and knowing that four out of five executive level women played a high school sport, I want that opportunity to be available to all girls. Participation is an important part of building healthy self-esteem, and the value of being on a team is immeasurable. Reynolds is truly a diverse school — ethnically and socioeconomically — and we need to make sure these opportunities are available to every student. Having an on-campus stadium will allow us to do that.”
Rowell said getting the stadium built will also give Reynolds parents more peace of mind. “It is one less time teenagers are on the road — either behind the wheel themselves or with another teenage driver,” said Rowell. “When school is out, students should be able to walk to their afterschool activities, not have to find a ride to practice, or worse, not get to participate because of transportation issues.”
Now, after four years of hard work by some very dedicated Reynolds high school families, “Home Field Advantage” officially kicked off the fundraising campaign this fall. The goal of the campaign is $4.5 million, and close to $1 million has already been raised.
“This project is about giving Reynolds students the same high school experience every other student in the county has,” said Gwyn. “There is a pride attached to each school’s stadium — it is seen in everything from banners to decorations and even the name on the field. Reynolds doesn’t have that.”
Built in 1923, R. J. Reynolds High School has gone for 92 years without a home field, and it is time to change that for future generations, according to Spanos. “A lot has changed since the ‘20s — the number of sports teams, the amount of girls participating in athletics, emphasis on health and well-being — and it is time to give Reynolds students the same opportunity that other high school students enjoy,” said Spanos. “A permanent, on-campus place to experience school spirit, tradition, community and pride — what a great legacy to give to the future generations of students who come through Reynolds.”
“Home Field Advantage” FAQs
What is the stadium’s status?
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board has approved the site on the perimeter of Hanes Park on land that is currently owned by the WS/FCS board. The school system will also pay for the replacement of the Wiley Gym.
“There has been a misperception that a stadium might disrupt Hanes Park with the traffic, lights and noise that are inherent with athletic events,” said Leah Crowley, “Home Field Advantage” campaign coordinator. “Home Field Advantage had studies done to see if these issues would be problematic and, if so, how they could be minimized to reduce the impact on the park and neighborhood. The decision to use non-glare lighting was a result of the studies conducted.”
The entire budget for the stadium project must be raised before construction can start, and the estimate for raising this money is six to 12 months.
Does WS/FCS support the project?
School administrators have been very supportive throughout the project. “R.J. Reynolds Principal Leslie Alexander and Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory immediately recognized the inequity since every other high school in the county has a stadium on campus, except for Parkland, whose stadium is near the school.,” said Crowley. “They also see the 15,000 miles driven annually by students attending practices and games as an unnecessary hardship, a barrier to participation and a safety issue.”
When did the fundraising campaign start?
The fundraising campaign officially kicked off in late August of 2015. “Home Field Advantage” committee members recruited alumni from each graduating class at Reynolds from as far back as 1955 to be Class Captains and rally classmates to donate to the project.
In addition, Neighborhood Captains have been recruited to ask residents in the neighborhoods surrounding RJR, Wiley and Hanes Park for contributions.
“Home Field Advantage” will host several forums for potential donors to explain the project and offer site tours.
What is the fundraising goal?
The goal is to raise $4.5 million, which will allow “Home Field Advantage” to build a beautiful, architecturally appropriate facility with a turf field, home and guest seating to accommodate 4,000 spectators, a concession area, a covered entrance and walkway, training room, locker room, press box and bathroom facilities. The turf field will allow for scheduling multiple activities without the concerns that come with using natural grass such as bare spots, drainage issues, wear and tear, wet conditions, etc.
Close to $1 million has already been raised.
How can I get involved?
If you are RJR alumni, please consider being a Class Captain or assisting your Class Captain with spreading the word about the project.
If you are a RJR parent or neighbor, please talk with your friends, coworkers and neighbors about what an asset this facility will be for Reynolds High School, Wiley Middle School, Hanes Park and the community as a whole. Let your elected officials know that Reynolds is long overdue for an on-campus stadium.
And please support the project through your monetary donation. Visit www.rjreynoldshomefield.com, select “Donate Now” and make your donation.