After renaming Laney High stadium, NHCS board considers labeling football field in honor of coach

Laney High’s stadium was renamed Buccaneer Stadium. The majority of survey respondents wanted to name it after former coach Larry Tootoo, but the school board would have had to waive its renaming policy to do so. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– Laney High School’s stadium was renamed Buccaneer Stadium Tuesday night in a unanimous vote by the New Hanover County Board of Education. The school leaders also expressed interest in finding another way to honor former football coach Larry Tootoo, after two members discouraged the full board from breaking policy to name the stadium after yet another person.

Previously, the stadium was named in honor of former deputy superintendent Rick Holliday. At its April meeting, the school board voted as one to strip Holliday’s name from the stadium, responding to a years worth of public outcry. Though he’s denied all wrongdoings, Holliday is widely accused of letting former teacher Michael Kelly get away with sexually abusing students on school grounds.

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Removing Holliday’s name from the stadium set into motion the 60-day public input process to rename a facility.

Board member Pete Wildeboer pushed to rename the facility after Tootoo. In a survey, more than half of respondents requested the name. Wildeboer said he knows Tootoo personally and thinks highly of him.

Buccaneer was the runner-up with 40 votes, just 12% of responses.

“I think it’s really, really important that if we ask the question, we need to listen to the answer,” Wildeboer said.

Several people wrote into the survey to dissuade the district from renaming it after another person:

“Stop naming facilities after individuals. Just call it Buccaneer Stadium.”

“Just call it something that is not the name of a person. Always run the risk of having to rename it again!”

“Stop choosing PEOPLE to name these PUBLIC buildings after! At some point in time, someone somewhere is going to speak against said ‘name chosen’ and make a big deal of it all.”

Board member Stephanie Kraybill thought similarly. She spoke against Wildeboer’s suggestion, iterating Policy 5400 that asserts facilities should only be named after geographic terms or words associated with the school.

She suggested Buccaneer, Buctown or Laney stadium as safer routes.

Considering the overwhelming majority of survey respondents who wanted to recognize Tootoo, board members Stephanie Walker and Judy Justice suggested a compromise to name the field after the coach.

But vice chair Nelson Beaulieu called a point of order to steer the conversation back to the name of the stadium, the item that was on the agenda. He pointed out renaming a facility requires 60 days’ notice, per policy.

Kraybill motioned for Buctown, but Justice advocated for Buccaneer and Walker motioned to amend Kraybill’s motion, to the displeasure of Kraybill who declared she wanted to vote on the motion she put forth. Buccaneer ended up passing 7-0.

Several board members attempted to engage in a discussion after the vote about how to best honor Tootoo.

“Larry Tootoo deserves some type of recognition,” board member Hugh McManus said. “I really believe he is that high on the peak.”

Beaulieu called yet another point of order. He claimed pursuing any action on another renaming was out of line with policy.

“I don’t know how to add this to the agenda because it’s not part of renaming Laney stadium,” he said.

“Let’s vote,” McManus responded.

They did not vote, though. The policy was read aloud by the attorney, who stated any renaming should go on the agenda as an information item before action is taken at a subsequent meeting.

The board members agreed to bring it forward in August. As the board tried to move on, Kraybill added comments about her frustrations with colleagues attempting to waive policies.

“I just wanted to go on record to say that,” Kraybill said. “We really need to pay attention to our policies before we bring new things before the board, and drag our community around as if we don’t know what we’re doing.”


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