JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A southern Indiana high school baseball complex will be named in honor of the founder of Papa John’s who opened his first pizza restaurant in the city, even though his name was last year stripped from another renovation project because he made racist comments.
John Schnatter opened his first Papa John’s restaurant in Jeffersonville in 1984. In the decades that followed, the restaurant grew into a nationwide chain. But in 2017, Schnatter stepped down as CEO and last year resigned as chair after facing backlash for blaming disappointing sales on NFL player protests and for using racist language during a company conference call.
The Greater Clark County Schools board voted Tuesday to rename Jeffersonville High School’s baseball facility the John H. Schnatter Stadium, the News and Tribune reported. Schnatter attended Jeffersonville High and played on the school’s state finalist baseball team in 1980. His foundation will provide $500,000 to renovate the complex.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said he’s disappointed by the decision.
“I guess everybody has to look in the mirror and do what they think is right. Obviously, we chose to go a different direction,” said Moore.
In 2018, Moore returned money that Schnatter had donated to renovate the Nachand Fieldhouse, a basketball gym and event space, which was going to be named for him. Schnatter’s name was also removed from Jeffersonville’s Wall of Champions.
“I’m proud that we did what we did,” Moore said. “But the school board has to answer to the public and what comes along with every decision they make. That’s on them.”
Board members noted that they did seek community feedback.
“I specifically asked my constituents who are African American about this and the vast majority said a $500K donation, take it,” board member Teresa Bottorff-Perkins said. “It’s what it is. I’m not going to deny the kids . from an updated baseball field because of a statement that (Schnatter) made.”
Derek Ellis, Jeffersonville High School’s head baseball coach who attended the meeting with some of his players, said he was “extremely excited” and that he approves of naming the facility after Schnatter. Ellis added that he hopes to soon get bids for the baseball complex renovation, so students will be able to play on the new turf in 2020.