By Jason Cohen
A high school football game often brings a community together. However, this year in Morristown it might be a challenge as the school was forced to close its home bleachers due to safety concerns.
In May, a routine facilities check found a significant crack in the home grandstands and a subsequent inspection by engineers and architects concluded that the bleachers be closed immediately and replaced. The bleachers, which are more than 80 yearsold, cannot be fixed and the district plans to purchase new ones next year.
“My first reaction was it’s kind of sad because they [the bleachers] have been a foundation to the athletic complex,” said Morristown Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast.
According to Morristown High School Athletic Director Smitty Horton, there is a stream below the bleachers which complicates the removal and rebuilding. The Morris School District, in association with the architect and engineer, contacted the Department of Environmental Protection to see if replacing the bleachers was possible.
Horton said the school reached out to eight local venues regarding the possibility of hosting its football games, but they did not acquiesce.
Another option was using the existing visitor side bleachers for fans from both teams, but those were inspected and it was determined that they could not endure the additional weight. Those bleachers have been removed and replaced with rental bleachers that can seat approximately 1,200 people.
“Our coaches as well as our players want to play home games on the Morristown High School field so we are doing what we can to make this happen,” Horton said in a press release. “While we understand that this is not the ideal situation, we are confident that we will be able to create a safe and enjoyable environment. We are looking forward to debuting our newly renovated sports complex in the near future.”
Horton noted the school is doing as much as possible to assist fans in feeling comfortable and safe at games. Therefore, the athletic staff will designate areas of the athletic complex where people may view a game.
For example, spectators will be able to sit in chairs they bring from home anywhere along the visitor side fence as well as on the hill under the trees. Colonials Head Coach Chris Hull explained this will have no impact on his players. The team kicked off its season on Sept. 10 as it hosted Roxbury.
“I don’t have a comment either way,” Hull said. “Our issue is playing the game. The administration is doing a great job.”