Former student scores in renaming Parkville football field
High school to be home of Yates Field
By Jay R. Thompson
The first black head football coach at a Baltimore County public high school will be honored this month when his name is attached to the gridiron where he made his mark.
For years, Parkville resident Bob Gartside spearheaded the movement to get Parkville High School’s football field renamed after his old hero, Joseph Yates, who coached football and track at the school from the late 1960s through the early 1980s.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Gartside said.
Yates’ widow, Edmonia Yates, shares Gartside’s sentiment.
“I’m ecstatic, really ecstatic about it,” she said.
The name Yates Field will be made official in a Sept. 12 ceremony, about a half hour before the school’s first home football game.
Gartside and Edmonia Yates visited the school Aug. 25 to meet Principal Steve Edgar and other staff for the third meeting to plan the ceremony.
Most of the ceremony, which Edgar said will be brief but respectful, has been worked out.
The school’s JROTC Marine color guard will be present in honor of Joe Yates’ military service. He served in a munitions trucking unit in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Sharon Harris, the school’s vocal music teacher, will sing the National Anthem, the school’s marching band will perform a few songs and Gartside and others will share their thoughts about Coach Yates.
Though the ceremony is almost nailed down, the road to renaming the field was a long haul.
For about three years, Gartside, a 1969 Parkville grad, has been appealing to anyone who would listen to get the field named after his now deceased hero.
“This guy was a real role model for us,” said Gartside, who was a defensive middle guard on the football team.
Gartside’s motivation is probably best captured in a letter he wrote to Sen. Barbara Mikulski last year, appealing for assistance in getting the field renamed.
“Racism was rampant in Parkville in those days,” he wrote.
Gartside recalled football games in which Parkville’s opponents would call Yates the “N” word and that Yates always ignored the harassment.
At one of those games, Gartside wanted to retaliate but Yates told him, “Bobby, just let it go and treat your enemies with kindness.”
Racism wasn’t limited to football games. Gartside wrote that Parkville High School was sometimes the scene of rallies and meetings for supporters of George Wallace, a four-time governor of Alabama, first elected in 1962 on a platform emphasizing segregation and economic issues.
“I had been a Wallace supporter at the time,” Gartside wrote. “I had been fearful of black people back then, mostly because I had never been around them and did not know what to expect.”
Coach Yates took a step toward destroying that fear when one day he saw Gartside showing off in the school parking lot by lifting the front end of a car. Coach Yates encouraged Gartside to try out for the football team.
“Coach Yates soon taught me, by his actions, that you can’t judge people by their race or appearance. He helped to tear down the color barrier for me and hundreds of his other students who would follow,” Gartside wrote.
Mikulski wrote back, telling Gartside that she thought renaming the field was “a great idea,” but that the matter would be better handled at the county level and she forwarded Gartside’s letter to County Executive Jim Smith.
Baltimore County Public Schools have a procedure for renaming school property.
According to policy 7530 of the county school’s Rules and Polices, the school principal must forward the recommended name to the area executive director of schools. The executive director then makes a recommendation to the superintendant and the school board, and the board has the authority to approve the name.
Even the first step toward renaming the field was met with resistance when Gartside ran up against the school’s principal at the time, Kevin Harahan, who was set against renaming the field or any part of the school after anyone.
In a 2006 e-mail to Gartside, Harahan made his position clear.
“While I am sure that Mr. Yates was an outstanding coach, I am sorry, but I cannot act upon your request,” Harahan wrote.
Harahan’s position was that the school had numerous noteworthy staff members and students over the years, and that it would be impossible to determine which should receive recognition.
When Edgar replaced Harahan as principal, he told Gartside he was open to the idea, but there was a catch.
“I think it’s important that it be done as a collective decision,” Edgar said in 2008.
A “collective decision” meant that the school improvement team should have a say, along with the PTSA, the school’s alumni association and the athletic boosters.
Edgar also felt that the football field should be improved before naming it so as to properly honor and respect its namesake.
Last December, the school applied for but failed to win a $50,000 grant from the National Football League to get the ball rolling to improve the field.
The planned improvements — an 8-foot fence, improved turf, a press box, new ticketing and concession facilities, aluminum bleachers to seat 700 spectators and other improvements — are estimated to cost $800,000.
The school failed to win the grant this year, Edgar said.
“We were encouraged to apply again next year,” he said.
In the meantime, Edgar decided to move forward with the renaming the field and improve the field whenever possible in the future.
Over the last eight or nine months, Edgar received approval for the naming from all the interest groups at the school, and the county board of education approved the renaming of the field July 14, Edgar said.
Those most excited about the field being renamed Yates Field don’t seem concerned about the quality of the turf or the size of the bleachers.
From the beginning, Gartside has cared more about honoring his former coach with the name.
“All they gotta do is make a sign that says ‘Yates Field.’ I’ll pay for it myself to have a sign put on the scoreboard,” Gartside said a year ago.
Now it appears Gartside will get his wish and he won’t have to pay for it himself.
“The athletic boosters are donating a sign that will be placed along the fence line,” Edgar said.
Later, when the money is available, the school will install Yates’ name on the scoreboard at the very least, he said.
Edmonia Yates seems pleased with the whole thing.
“Everyone is excited. His family in Arizona (where Joe Yates grew up) and Nevada are coming out,” she said.
“The family will forever cherish this,” she said.
Edmonia Yates is a former principal of Forest Park High School, a former deputy superintendant for Baltimore City Public Schools and a former adjunct professor at Morgan State Univesity.
The Aug. 25 meeting was the first time Edmonia Yates visited the school in about 10 years. The last time she visited, she came with her husband, she said.
Edmonia Yates was so moved by what Gartside, the school’s administration and the school community are doing to honor her late husband that she decided to complement their efforts with a gesture of her own.
At the Aug. 25 meeting, Edmonia Yates took out her checkbook and wrote the school a check for $10,000. She said she wants it to fund an annual award of maybe $1,000 to a Parkville High School student. male or female, who excels both athletically and academically.
Principal Edgar and the other half-dozen staff members at the meeting were speechless.
Edmonia Yates wants it to be an award, not a scholarship, because those who don’t intend to go to college right away or at all need help and motivation just like the college-bound students, she said.
Edmonia Yates expects that others, including those in Coach Yates’ extended family, will likely be interested in contributing to the fund.
She added that she’d like her late husband's name, Joseph Anthony Yates, to be part of the award’s name.
The ceremony to rename Parkville High School’s football field Yates Field will take place at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the football field across Putty Hill Avenue from Parkville High School, located at 2600 Putty Hill Avenue, just west of Harford Road in Parkville.
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