DECATUR — Decatur residents, some lifelong members of the community, took their seats near the back of the board room on Aug. 29 waiting for a chance to address the Decatur School Board’s recent high school gym name change from Lloyd Peterson to Ike Owens Fieldhouse.
Aug. 11 had been a happy day for the Decatur Bulldog and Lady Bulldog basketball and volleyball teams and one on which each member of those teams had a chance to participate in the ceremonial ribbon cutting to reopen the newly renovated facility. The teams were seated behind the line of dignitaries from the Decatur School Board, the Chamber of Commerce, the city, and residents from the community. Ike Owens, a lifelong resident of Decatur, did the honor of cutting the red ribbon.
Shortly after the ceremony, while the kids were getting acclimated to their new home, the school board met to discuss a few items that needed to be resolved. One item that the board discussed was changing the name of the high school gym from Peterson Gym to Ike Owens Fieldhouse.
As news spread about the change, many longtime residents began to express outrage at the name change, stating that
“Lloyd Peterson paid for that gym; his name should stay on it.”
Soon a petition began circulating through the Decatur community demanding the name be changed back to Lloyd Peterson Gym.
One Decatur resident that was upset with the new name was Bob Tharp, who served on the school board when the new addition, including the bleachers, was completed in 1991.
He cited Arkansas Code Title 25. State Government § 25-1-121. Naming of public buildings, structures, airports, or facilities, as to the legality of the name change.
Part 7.21 — Naming School Facilities states that “except as otherwise permitted in this policy or Arkansas law, the District shall not name any building, structure, or facility, paid for in whole or in part with district funds, for an individual living at the time of its completion who, in the ten years preceding its construction, was elected, or held a federal, state, county, or municipal office and received a salary for his or her service.”
Armed with this information and several articles from the Decatur Herald newspaper, Tharp was prepared to question the school board’s reasoning behind the name change.
The school board took up the issue at the end of its regular monthly meeting. Before the meeting started, Steve Watkins, Decatur Schools superintendent, had a sign-up sheet available to anyone who wished to address the board pertaining to the name change issue. Watkins repeatedly asked before the meeting got underway for anyone who wished to speak to sign the sheet. No one took advantage of his repeated request.
As the matter was open to the board, there was still a chance that anyone who wanted to speak would be granted the customary five-minute time limit. Still, no one approached the school board requesting time to speak.
Kevin Smith, board president, opened the issue to board members for discussion. Still, no one took the opportunity to speak. Smith called for a motion to rename the newly renovated gym Peterson-Owens Fieldhouse. Amy Brooks made the motion and it was seconded. With Ike Owens abstaining from the vote, the remainder of the board members approved the name change.
The new name for the main gym at Decatur High School is now the Peterson-Owens Fieldhouse in honor of both Lloyd Peterson who paid for the gym in 1971 and Ike Owens for his work on the school board and ongoing volunteer commitment to the Decatur sports program.
NOTE: By definition, a fieldhouse is a place used to store equipment, provide dressing rooms, service multiple sports (the Decatur gym services volleyball, basketball, football, soccer, track and cross country), and provides suitable seating for spectators. Peterson-Owens fits all of these criteria, which now makes it a fieldhouse.