Durham County Memorial Stadium may be getting a new name, but county commissioners aren’t exactly sure how and when that could happen.
Commissioners are considering the change after Frederick Davis, a former Durham Public Schools school board member, requested about three months ago that the stadium be renamed to honor Willie Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, who died in March, was a longtime coach at Hillside High School and was the first black athletic director for the Durham city/county schools. He helped integrate high school athletics in North Carolina during the 1960s and was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 2010.
County Attorney Lowell Siler said his research indicates the word memorial was included in the nearly 50-year-old stadium to honor veterans of World Wars I and II.
He also found that the county doesn’t have a protocol for naming a public facility after someone.
“The closest thing we have for it is a naming policy for a library,” Siler said.
However, Willie Darby, senior assistant county attorney, said there doesn’t appear to be anything that would prevent the commissioners from naming such facilities, and they don’t need a policy to move forward.
“But I think best practices should say you should have one because this issue is going to arise again,” Darby said.
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she thinks it would be problematic to rename the stadium, considering the history of honoring veterans, but that there are opportunities to recognize people like Bradshaw by naming facilities within the stadium, such as the field, track or the concourse and concession area.
“I think there are some wonderful opportunities and I would support that,” she said. “But I am very hesitant to change the name of Durham County Memorial Stadium.”
Board of Commissioners Chair Michael Page said he was at Bradshaw’s funeral when Davis raised the idea of renaming the stadium, and there was strong support in the room.
Since that service, Page said, he has received calls supporting the change. After some thought, Page said he supports leaving the word memorial and including the name of Tommy Hunt, who along with Bradshaw, was a longtime member of the Memorial Stadium Authority, which supervises and directs the general operation of the county-owned stadium.
After “canvassing this board, I felt I had support for naming it Bradshaw-Hunt Memorial Stadium,” Page said.
Page said he wants to move forward quickly, but would give the Memorial Stadium Authority time to discuss the change and make a recommendation.
Davis said he would prefer that the name be changed to Willie Bradshaw Stadium.
“Willie Bradshaw, for the record, was a veteran,” Davis said.
Commissioners Brenda Howerton and Fred Foster said they support the name change request. Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said she thinks memorial should stay in the name and a policy should be established.
“This is a really tough issue because we have so many people in this community that make contributions in many ways,” she said. “I think that we have an obligation to our community to be fair and transparent and try to be uniform as much as we can.”
The discussion will continue at the commissioner’s Sept. 8 work session.