By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School football team was off last week, but there was still action at Gentry Stadium. And, hopefully, a problem – the malfunctioning scoreboard – that has annoyed many Blue Devil fans and school system officials has been fixed.
“We got to the first home varsity football game in August and the scoreboard did not work,” Director of Schools John English told The Erwin Record. “Previously, that same week, a home junior varsity game and a home middle school were played at Gentry and the scoreboard worked fine.”
English said coaches and administrators thought the scoreboard not working for that first game “was just a fluke.”
“The next morning, the Jr. Blue Devils played at Gentry and the scoreboard worked,” he added. “During the JV game the following week, the scoreboard also worked.”
Given this, English said school officials felt the scoreboard would be working for the Blue Devils’ second home game, which was played on Sept. 2 against West Greene.
“Game day arrives and the scoreboard is not working again,” he said. “At that point, we knew we had three weeks between home games to do whatever we had to to make sure we have a working scoreboard. This has been extremely frustrating for fans; it has been frustrating for me.”
Since the West Greene game, several individuals looked at the sign in an effort to repair it.
“Ultimately, Snyder Signs got it up and running again,” English said. “They had to clean off bulbs, panels and breakers. They did a really good cleanup. There was some corrosion they cleaned off.”
English said the signal sent from the press box to the scoreboard was not connecting, causing the problem. Even though the scoreboard has been repaired, the signal still will not connect, so officials will be keeping score and time while connected directly to the scoreboard.
“They are going to have to set up a table at the scoreboard and work it from there,” he added.
School officials were at Gentry Stadium on Monday, Sept. 26, making sure the scoreboard was still working – and it was, according to English. The scoreboard also worked during Jr. Devils games on Saturday, Sept. 24, he said.
“We are going to go up there everyday this week to make sure it is still working leading up to Friday night,” English added.
Knowing the scoreboard is only repaired in order to last through the rest of the 2016 season, English said he and the Unicoi County Board of Education have begun preliminary discussions about buying and installing a new one before the 2017 campaign begins.
“Part of the issue with the current scoreboard is age,” he added. “It’s 12 years old. We will do what we can to get through this season and will make plans to get a new one before next year.”
In addition to employees of Snyder Signs, English said several individuals spent time trying to repair the scoreboard.
“We appreciate everyone who helped us,” he said. “There was a lot of effort from several people.”
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In addition to a, hopefully, repaired scoreboard, fans visiting Gentry Stadium this Friday and in the future will notice some cosmetic repairs to the facility as well. English said Jeanne Strother with the UCHS Grid Iron Club “spent a lot of time” working at the stadium. He also said Sheriff Mike Hensley allowed supervised female inmates to work at the stadium.
“They have pressure washed and painted the bleachers,” English said. “They have painted the concession stands, the roofs of the concession stands, the gate and the bathrooms. They pressure washed all the buildings and repainted the Devil logos on the buildings.
“We want to thank the sheriff, the guard and the inmates. They really worked hard to help beautify the stadium and the buildings.”
English said the work was done to improve the facility.
“Gentry Stadium is a beautiful place for football,” he added. “We want to make sure we take pride in it and that it is a place people can be proud of.”
A major needed improvement at the stadium, English said, is the installation of new bleachers. The current ones date back to the 1930s.
“The board and I are looking at how we can address that,” he added. “You’re talking about a big ticket item, but we realize that at some point we are going to have to address that in the near future.”
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After a bye week last week, the Blue Devil football team returns to Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 30, when they will face the Chuckey-Doak Black Knights.
The homecoming game will be head coach Drew Rice’s first at home since being appointed to the position earlier this month. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The homecoming queen and court will be crowned during halftime.