Name change sparks debate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Troy State University's decision to change the name of Memorial Stadium has been a hot topic of discussion since Friday, when the TSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept a contract with Movie Gallery.

The deal, which will change the name of Memorial Stadium to Movie Gallery Veterans Field, will bring $5 million into TSU, but has some residents less than thrilled about the break with tradition.

Local World War II veteran Billy Gibson talks to veterans all over the county and said the name change alters a sacred memorializing of the deceased in order to pay a broader tribute to all veterans.

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"There's a difference in a 'memorial,' which is dedicated to those who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice, and 'veterans.' There are people who served in the armed services who never left the United States. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But it hurts. We weren't consulted."

Gibson said the new contract with Movie Gallery created "a lot of sadness" among veterans and distorts the original purpose of the plaque placed in Memorial Stadium designed to honor those actually killed in World War II.

TSU's home field was moved to its current location in 1950 and became Memorial Stadium. Previously, the team played on the ground where Smith Hall is now and in a field that is now the outfield of Riddle-Pace baseball field.

Gibson said a sense of history and an understanding of the origin of the name Memorial Stadium was important.

"We, and I include myself in this, know that old saying, 'How soon they forget.'"

Freddie Turner, a member of Post 7055 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, offered a similar sentiment and described the name change as a "sad situation."

"I have worn many hats and been called many things in my 35 years of military service," he said. "There are two things I don't intend to be: a Movie Gallery veteran and a patron of the Movie Gallery stadium."

Rogers Powell is the head of the Pike County chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. He said his talks with vets have revealed some displeasure about the name change.

"This country owes a lot to the American veterans," he said. "The name should still be Memorial Stadium."

Powell, a WWII veteran who was among the first Americans to cross the Rhine River in Germany after the Battle of the Bulge, said veterans groups were not consulted about the name change and said the contract was just a money-based decision.

"The soldiers' blood should be the signature," he said.

Shasta Brewer is not a veteran and is not particularly upset about the name change. Her first reaction to the new name centers on the awkwardness of the new moniker.

"It's a strange name," she said.

She hopes the money, which will come in annual payments of $250,000 a year, will be used to help the TSU art program.

"I used to go there and might take some more classes," she said. "Maybe it'll help the school out. With as much focus as they put on football, they might as well."

Johno Weed said he understands the need to change part of the name of the stadium - the part named after scandal-plagued Birmingham businessman Richard Scrushy. Scrushy, the former namesake of the playing field at Memorial Stadium, donated over $1 million to stadium renovations and has been accused by the federal government of artificially inflating over a billion dollars in profits for his rehabilitation company, Healthsouth. TSU Trustee Bill Owens, a former Healthsouth CEO who has pled guilty to three counts of financial fraud connected to the scandal, was present at Friday's meeting and voted to approve the new contract.

"I understand the need to take Scrushy's name off there," Weed said. "But I hate that the name 'Memorial' is off. I guess they'll have to get used to it."

The new contract with Movie Gallery stipulates that the name "Movie Gallery Field" applies to all parts of the stadium, including the playing field, which means the Board of Trustees didn't have to conduct a separate vote to strip Scrushy's name from the field.

Samantha Weed said the concerns over the name change are over-rated.

"It really doesn't matter. I know it matters to a lot of people, but to me, it doesn't," she said. "I just go for the football."