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Richards Memorial Field: Let there be light?

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, over the last couple of offerings, we examined the life and times of John Wayne Richards (1878-1957), who left nearly $43,000 after he died to Hillsboro City Schools, which used the money to improve recreational facilities and to build Richards Memorial Field.

After first-year head football coach Bill Atsalis, just 27 years old when he was hired, led a young and largely inexperienced Hillsboro team in 1959 to a 2-7 record while playing home games in what was often dubbed “the dust bowl” behind the high school, work began to construct the new field.

However, a battle ensued in June of 1960 on spending $10,500 for lighting for the field.

In a four-hour board meeting, “vigorous objection” to the athletic field lighting project came from board members Dr. Leland D. McBride and Blair Dennison, but other board members held steadfast to their views that that the transaction was repayment to the John Wayne Richards Memorial Fund, a gift to the school the previous year.

After much discussion, a motion bringing the matter to a vote was made by board member Richard Faris and seconded by Elmer Hedges. McBride and Dennison voted “nay” and Hedges, Faris and John Henry Brown voted “yea,” as the motion passed by a split 3-2 vote to approve the expenditures for the lighting at the new athletic field.

Just prior to the vote, McBride had made a motion, seconded by Dennison, that an anticipated carry-over in the board’s general fund at the end of 1960, tentatively figured at about $15,000, be appropriated, and thus earmarked, into a fund against teachers’ salaries and held for use until paid. This was defeated by a 3-2 vote. It was part of this $15,000 that the board members were figuring on using in doing the athletic field lighting project. It was debated whether this money was “encumbered” or “unencumbered.”

All the while, McBride said he objected to appropriating tax money for the lighting project without a vote of the people and using operating revenue at a time when raises in teachers’ salaries had been put off, part of a roofing project at the high school had been canceled and when many other physical needs of the district were so apparent. Dennison expressed similar views.

Brown said the project involved more than a football field. He said it will release a playground area behind the high school, and with an active Boosters Club, the development of all recreation areas can proceed. Faris said he considered it a repayment of a loan and that time was an important factor. He said the area is prepared and ready for use and the majority of the people he had talked to were not against the lighting project.

Before the vote, McBride and Dennison had stated that if the matter were put to a vote, it would be defeated. Hedges countered that the board had an obligation to replace the money in the Richards fund.

The vote secured the funding, but the lighting project subject was brought before the board at the April 1960 meeting when a committee working on the new athletic field project, including Dick Starbuck, Frank Collins and coach Bill Atsalis, asked the board for restoration of $10,500 to the John Wayne Richards fund after the board spent that amount for general fund operations the year before, and it was never replaced.

McBride said at the time that he could see no way to appropriate money for the lighting project and questioned the “morality” of putting it ahead of other projects, such as teachers’ salaries.

Other board members countered that the Richards money was a gift and was used as tax money and should be replaced. McBride did say later that he was not opposed to completion of the new athletic field.

“If we can get lights somehow, we can use the field for football this fall,” Starbuck said. He added that if this step can be accomplished, then it might be possible to get permanent seating through public subscriptions. “I think it would be a mistake to try to get both done with public subscriptions.”

The committee also reported during the April board meeting that a new track was completed with the application of 21 loads of cinders at a cost of $30.16. The committee had been allocated $150 (I bet a lot of you remember running on that cinder track!).

In subsequent action at the April meeting, Hedges made a motion that a 2-inch water line be laid into the new field from the city system at a cost not to exceed $325. The motion was approved unanimously.

At the June meeting, members of the Hillsboro Boosters Club requested permission to submit plans to the board for a chain link fence and a permanent ticket booth for the new athletic field. The group received oral permission to proceed with preparing the plans, and the boosters proposed to finance the projects.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue with more on John Wayne Richards Memorial Field next time.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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