Stadium name change needs careful handling

July 29, 2018

We thought Beaumont ISD Superintendent John Frossard had it right the first time: Renaming the Carrol A. “Butch” Thomas Educational Support Center — however one feels about that — is not the district’s top priority and would be divisive if undertaken. For a while, it seemed as if the state-appointed board of managers felt the same way, saying or doing nothing about the proposal for three years. Suddenly, however, the idea has new life.

Board members asked Frossard to develop a plan to honor past Beaumont high schools, coaches and employees at the stadium. He responded with a proposal for a Wall of Honor or Walk of Honor to recognize those places or people with flags, plaques or other markers.

Frossard said Thomas could be included in that new array, which would keep his name at the stadium. The clear implication in all this, however, is that those giant letters on the south side of the stands are coming down.

We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: The stadium should not have been named after Thomas in the first place. It was done hastily, clearly with an in-your-face attitude by his supporters that ignored his growing number of critics. Beaumont has countless other role models more deserving of the honor, such as the legendary Willie Ray Smith. And while Thomas should receive credit for some successes at the start of his 15-year term, by the time he left, the district was broke, divided and riddled with corruption that should have been caught by the superintendent or trustees.

But as others are discovering in efforts to rebrand cities or parks named after Confederate war heroes, changing the past is not so easy. It sparks an immediate pushback from people who liked the first choice — or who just don’t want to change a name for what looks like political reasons.

If this effort is going to stagger forward — and it appears that it will — the managers and trustees who have been appointed should handle it thoughtfully. They should definitely include Thomas in the Wall of Honor, and make sure that all relevant people and schools from the city’s past get their due. If this is done creatively, it could become a new source of pride for the city, the kind of place people seek out for selfies or group photographs. If the stadium’s name is changed, the honor should go to a truly unifying and deserving person. If the new name does not reflect an individual, it should be uplifting and, again, unifying.

Then Beaumonters can hope that the changes will be accepted, either immediately or eventually. This district needs to be thinking about its future, not its past.

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