School board debates new name for Harding and more

March 13, 2018 GMT

BRIDGEPORT — Naming rights take up a big chunk of time at city school board meetings these days.

A committee is already in place to rename the Harding High School football field once it moves to its new location on Bond Street in the fall. Last month, that committee was sent back to the drawing board for working too quickly.

On Monday, three more naming committees were authorized: one to consider renaming Harding itself, one to name the day care center that will be part of the new school and a third to name the basketball court across town at the renovated Central High. Not the gymnasium — which already has a name —but the actual hardwood across the floor.

To some it might seem that hours once spent bickering are now being used to demonstrate how well this nine-member panel — six of them newly elected in November — can debate in a civil fashion.

Kind of. At one point voices were raised when Joe Sokolovic, a freshman board member suggested a naming committee for the new school would eliminate the possibility of board biases, and Chris Taylor, another newbie shouted, “That’s a lie.”

Forming a naming committee for Harding, which is being replaced by a new structure a half mile from its present location in the East End, is simply required by board policy, some board members maintain.

“We have an obligation to follow rules and flesh out appropriate names,” Dennis Bradley, a board member, said.

That said, Bradley would like the committee to consider renaming the school after another former president, Barack Obama.

Others questioned whether the idea of a naming committee was publicized enough. The board’s agenda referred to the school’s new address, but never Harding.

Taylor wondered if the aim was to keep a throng of Harding alumni from attending the meeting.

While Taylor said he views Warren Harding as the worst president ever, he added he has been contacted by numerous alumni who all want the name to stay. None support a name change, Taylor said.

“Harding high pride runs deep,” Taylor said to Bradley. “You seem skeptical of that.”

“Obviously there are people with strong emotions both ways,” Bradley said, suggesting a naming committee would give the public a chance to have their say.

Board member Hernan Illingworth pushed to have a public hearing on the idea, presumably organized by the naming committee which the board eventually approved.

Board member Maria Pereira, a Harding alum, was OK with the committee, confident they would reach the right conclusion.

“It’s not about Harding,” Pereira said. “It’s about a deep pride ... It’s history. It is part of Bridgeport culture. I am totally opposed to changing it.”

She continued by rattling off a list of Harding graduates who have gone on to be athletes and educational leaders. The school was built in 1925.

Obama, Pereira said, would be a more fitting moniker for the Early Childhood Center that the board approved earlier in the evening for teen parents at Harding.

“Obama was very big on early childhood education,” Pereira said. “I would support naming the early childhood center at Harding after Obama.”

The idea to name the Central basketball court came from Central staff. The idea is to name it after Barry McLeod, who recently retired after 26 years as head coach.

Neil Kavey, the district’s retired director of athletics said the gym itself would continue to be named after another legendary coach, Ed Reilly.

The board voted to approve a naming committee, as long as private fundraising is conducted to pay for the new name to be permanently ingrained into the hardwood flooring.