“If you build it, they will come.” – from the movie “Field of Dreams.”

WHILE IT’S NOT BUILDING a baseball park in the middle of a cornfield, Hermitage School District has its own field of dreams — an artificial turf surface at Hickory High School stadium.

The school board is discussing the possible replacement of worn-out grass turf with a modern artificial surface that has become more popular at high schools throughout the region.

Questions concern the expense and the manner of paying for it. Athletic director Barb Dzuricsko estimates the cost at between $500,000 and $650,000. The board gave her permission to seek outside donations to help cover the cost.

We certainly don’t begrudge the community involvement in this dream. But we have some dreams as well. We dream of a citizenry as willing to get inspired about academic programs as athletics.

Why is it that businesses, industries and individuals are willing to dole out funds for athletics, yet when it comes to buying new books or developing educational innovations in most school districts, the money just isn’t there?

What could $650,000 in donations do to develop a science lab that would make Hermitage a state model in that field? What would that kind of money do to develop speech and debate teams where students could learn skills to help them in their working life?

Sometimes our priorities become slanted because we get caught up in the “rah, rah” nature of sports.

Some board members have said they won’t raise taxes to install the turf. That’s a good policy. If donations offset the cost of the field, the board could use tax money for other educational purposes.

Some 40 schools in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, which encompasses much of the southwest portion of the state, have artificial turf. In our area, only Wilmington Area High School has it.

Admittedly, there is a good reason for its popularity. Grass takes a battering from high school football and soccer as well as marching bands. Throw in junior high and midget football, youth soccer programs and various community activities and the maintenance of a grass field is nearly impossible.

Obviously, the new turf — which unlike the astroturf of decades ago is very close in appearance and texture to grass — allows opportunities for schools that grass fields don’t. In addition to team sports, it will provide better capabilities for physical education programs that are so badly needed in this era of increased childhood obesity.

And just like that fabled ballfield in Iowa, if Hermitage builds it, “they will come.” “They” as in football and soccer playoff games, marching band shows as well as concerts and other activities.

Boosters clubs will make money from concessions and the school will help recoup costs by renting the stadium.

Here’s another idea. Rent the stadium to other high schools for football games. Instead of building their own turf fields, schools could rent Hickory’s for games Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday afternoon and night.

It’s an opportunity for consolidation of services that can benefit taxpayers of all districts. We need more thinking along those lines from all school boards.

But we also need more thinking about how we can boost interest and resources for academic programs as well as athletics. Participation in team sports doesn’t last forever but the academic education students receive does. That’s the field of reality.