A no-brainer if one ever existed.
Dennis Wallace created and then built Hughson’s youth soccer program into an organization that serves hundreds of children, hosts major tournaments and engages the entire community.
So, within days after the beloved Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy died in the line of duty on Nov. 13, folks in the small farming community began looking for ways to honor him. None fits more appropriately than to rename Hughson Unified School District’s sports complex in his memory, and so they began working to make that happen.
They anticipated instant results. After all, the district’s alternative education high school is named for Billy Joe Dickens, a sheriff’s deputy slain in 1970. And a neighborhood park in town honors Earl Scott, a California Highway Patrolman shot to death during a traffic stop along Highway 99 in Salida in 2006.
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Thus, remembering Wallace – a man who touched the lives of so many people in the community – should be automatic. A quick and easy call for the school district’s board, right?
Not so fast. Naming anything for anyone on school property involves a process, as the group of residents who attended Tuesday’s night’s board meeting learned. About 10 of them wanted to speak on Wallace’s behalf, while 20 or so others wrote letters wholeheartedly endorsing renaming the park in his honor. Wallace’s widow, Mercedes, sat in the audience along with some children.
Two residents – Amanda Young, wife of Hughson Mayor Jeramy Young, and Neil Raya, a city worker and Wallace kin – spoke during the public comment period. But board President Jim Hudelson stopped the procession – not because he disagreed, Superintendent Brian Beck said, but because Young and Raya made their points well. If the rest of the speakers merely planned to reiterate what they said, protocol demanded Hudelson move the meeting along, which he did. Some felt what should have continued as an emotional tribute to Wallace ended too abruptly.
Relax, Hughsonites. The park will be named for Wallace, and easily in time for an opening-day dedication in September. But it must first go through the process, beginning as an item on the February meeting agenda. Board members should authorize Beck to form a committee of residents who will research how to pay for the new sign or statue or whatever, along with its design and placement and without using public funds.
“There are lots of friends and family who are willing to get things done,” said Raya, who expects to be on the committee.
A month later, the committee will report its findings to the board, which can then vote on the issue.
The pace, while cumbersome, is typical. When Rhapsody Park became Earl Scott Park, the dedication ceremony happened about two years after his death. Neighbors, law enforcement and the homeowners association raised the money and built the sign bearing his name. And it happened that quickly only because the homeowners association doesn’t follow the same protocol as a school district, a municipal government, the county or the state.
It took much longer to name a section of Highway 99 for Scott. In 2010, then-Sen. Jeff Denham introduced a bill in the state Legislature, which sent it through the usual committees before approving it. Public funds couldn’t be used to purchase and install the freeway signs. Money raised privately went to the California Department of Transportation, which ordered the signs, which took eight months to receive. And the process was delayed more so because prosecutors, concerned about news coverage of the murder case involving Scott’s death, asked Denham to wait until it concluded before introducing the resolution.
Consequently, the dedication of the Earl Scott Memorial Highway didn’t happen until 2012 – six years after he died.
So naming the Hughson sports park after Wallace will move quickly by comparison. Mercedes Wallace wants it to happen.
“He loved it here,” she said. “I’m proud of him. He gave so much of himself to this town and the children. That’s who he was.”
It will happen because there is so much community will to make it happen. And when that many people in a small town want something, those elected listen.
Naming the complex for Wallace simply is the right thing to do. And besides, voting “no” against it in that town is the surest way to become an ex-board member.
Hence, it is a no-brainer.