Burke loses game, but hopes Stoney Field will win

Burke takes the field against Lake Marion during their game Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Paul Zoeller/Staff

Unable to use its home stadium so far this season, the Burke High School Bulldogs played under the bright lights of The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium on Friday night.

“It was a lot different,” said the Bulldogs’ junior quarterback, Sidney Robinson. “It was a great atmosphere and really got us hyped up.”

The Class A Bulldogs lost by 46-7 to undefeated Class AA Lake Marion before about 300 fans, dropping to 0-4 on the season. But the spotlight the past week has cast on unsafe conditions at Stoney Field, the 60-year-old home of Burke football, sparked hope that a long-term solution soon will be found.

“I hope it does bring attention to Stoney Field,” said Burke athletic director Wayne Alston, “and also a spotlight to the good things we are doing in our athletic department.”

Alston announced last week that recent heavy rains had rendered Stoney Field unplayable, and that Burke would play the remainder of its home games at Ravenel Stadium in West Ashley, about five miles from Burke’s downtown campus. This week, an agreement was reached with The Citadel to play Friday’s game and next week’s home game against Academic Magnet at 21,000-seat Johnson Hagood Stadium, which is right next door to Burke.

“They’ve been excellent,” Alston said of The Citadel. “They help set up the field for us, they had a game manager here to let us into different parts of the stadium, I’m very grateful to them, and all Bulldog fans are as well.”

But still unresolved is the long-term condition of Stoney Field. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who was at Friday’s game, has called for a roundtable meeting next week among interested parties to discuss the issue. A “Save Stoney Field” rally was held at the stadium on Wednesday.

“We need to do a feasibility study and get a price for a whole new stadium with a state-of-the-art drainage system,” Gilliard said this week.

In a statement, the Charleston County School District said it “is working with the City of Charleston to develop a long-term plan to support Burke High School football.” CCSD chief financial officer Michael Bobby told the District 20 constituent board this week that the district will hire an engineer to do a study of Stoney Field by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, first-year Burke coach Anthony Sterling is trying to rebuild the Bulldogs’ program. Burke’s early schedule includes Class AA teams Garrett, North Charleston and Academic Magnet as it aims for competing for a title in Region 6-A, which includes Cross, Lincoln, St. John’s, Military Magnet and Baptist Hill.

“On Aug. 1, we had a full count of 29 players, and they’ve been going at it steady since then,” said Sterling, who formerly coached at Chester High School. “The scores we’ve had don’t indicate the way our team is growing. We knew coming in we’d have to focus on the fundamentals and getting our kids in the weight room, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Against Lake Marion (4-0), Robinson completed 5 of 7 passes for 48 yards and caught a 33-yard pass. And sophomore Delonza Simmons returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the third quarter. Terry Gladden Jr. caught three passes for 28 yards and had six tackles on defense.

“Every week, we are improving,” said Robinson, who played on Burke’s state championship basketball team last year. “It doesn’t matter about the score, it just matters about the effort that the team is giving in every game we play.”

It also doesn’t matter, Robinson said, where the game is played.

“We just stay focused on the game,” he said. “Wherever we play, we’re just doing to do what we do, no matter the field.”