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US flag symbol on football field honoring Army vet killed in Iraq is causing dispute between county, school officials

An Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Corporal Ryan C. McGhee, of Fredericksburg, Va., at Dover Air Force Base, Del., May 14. Corporal McGhee was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tom Randle)

Another spat has broken out between the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors and the School Board over football field turf at a county high school.

The first issue arose last year over the blue turf field at Courtland High School, following a crime in which hackers stole money meant to pay for the field.

Now supervisors have an issue with an American flag stitched into the turf at Massaponax High School’s football field to honor former Panther football player and Army Cpl. Ryan McGhee, who was killed in Iraq in 2009 at the age of 21. The flag was placed on the field’s 33-yard line, which was the number McGhee wore as a linebacker for the Panthers.

“My son, Shane [Ludden], who coaches with me, played with Ryan and when we were coming up with ideas for the field, he came up with that idea,” Massaponax football coach Eric Ludden told The Free Lance–Star in May. “Last year was the 10th anniversary of us losing Ryan. We felt like if we’re going to set up this field for the rest of time and it’s going to be permanent, then we’d like to have that as part of the fabric of the school for years to come.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, which was held virtually, School Board Chairman Baron Braswell read a letter written by Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Skinner objecting to placing the image of a flag on the field.

Skinner wrote on behalf of the board that McGhee is “deserving of every honor,” but “this is not the proper way to do so.” Skinner’s letter noted that many, including area military members, are against the flag being on the field.

The supervisors’ issue revolves around the U.S. Flag Code, which dictates how the flag is to be displayed and handled. The rules state, among other things, that flags should not touch the ground or be displayed in a way that would allow it to be soiled.

In a Tuesday interview, Skinner said he understands the purpose of honoring McGhee, but said he, along with other supervisors and residents, feel it is “inappropriate.” Skinner is one of three Marine Corps veterans on the board, along with Supervisors David Ross and Tim McLaughlin.

“There are some people that don’t feel it’s appropriate with people running over it,” said Skinner. “I would have preferred not to see it on the field.”

Skinner also acknowledged that the choice rests with the School Board.

The School Board talked about the issue for nearly an hour before voting unanimously to respond with a letter telling the supervisors the field will remain as is, with the flag emblem.

“The whole thing centers around honoring a fallen hero” who is a Massaponax alumnus, Don Upperco, executive director of operations for county schools, told the School Board.

The only contention during the meeting came when Lee Hill District Board member Lisa Phelps wondered if the flag emblem added to the cost of the field. Chancellor District Board member Dawn Shelley and others said there was no additional cost to have the flag stitched into the turf, but there would be a cost to remove it.

The School Board members also pointed out that the emblem is an image of a flag, not an actual flag. Braswell, a military veteran who represents the Battlefield District, said the School Board has a legal opinion affirming use of the flag emblem is OK.

“It’s been done before. This is nothing new,” he said, adding that other fields have displayed the flag and that, in the past, Massaponax has painted a flag on its field.

He and other School Board members also noted that supervisors have no say in school system decisions.

“Everybody needs to stay in their own lane,” Braswell said.


© 2020 The Free Lance-Star