THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Brian McGrory

Still shrill at whistle stop

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / June 4, 2010

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HINGHAM — My, how I’ve missed this lovely little town.

How did I survive without the sonorous sounds of Hingham residents screaming at each other over issues that wouldn’t merit a conversation in any other place? How did I soldier on without the cooling breezes left by mammoth SUVs roaring down idyllic streets? How did my aesthetic sensibilities function when they were assaulted by something other than white houses with black shutters?

Ah, Hingham. Not so many years ago, it was a community dealing with a litany of — wink, wink — unusual phobias, and I extended a helping hand in overcoming them. Some residents appreciated that, others not so much, but given my roots in Weymouth, it seemed like the neighborly thing to do.

They spent some 20 years debating whether to put a traffic signal on congested Main Street, and didn’t say yes until designers said it would be identical to ones in Wellesley. They sued to block a privately funded tot lot in a town-owned park. They frown on colored lights at Christmas, forbid fast food in restaurants, and once dismantled a National Guard recruiting sign deemed too big.

Then there was the mother of all fears, commuter rail, which involved two decades of losing court battles, millions of dollars in legal fees, and, ultimately, a tunnel through the town center that allows the patrons of Talbots to shop without the burden of a clacking train.

With the rising popularity of the rail service, I thought my work was done here. I thought these phobias were cured. But, alas, a setback has occurred.

The latest object of fear and loathing: athletic lights.

A group of civic-minded parents, all of whom are youth sports coaches, got together and pledged upwards of $2.5 million in private donations to outfit a relatively remote town-owned lacrosse field with artificial turf and lights.

The field was ideal, mostly surrounded by a curtain of towering trees, barely visible from any houses. The donors spent $450,000 on a battery of studies, measuring everything from soil perk to — and I’m being serious here — the mating habits of salamanders. There was apparently a fear that the little critters feel romantic only in the dark.

These are the same kinds of lights that exist in communities all across this great Commonwealth. They sit on tall poles. They shine straight down on the field. They allow young athletes to play after dark, which often allows working parents to watch their children compete.

Some towns, like Dedham, are desperately trying to raise money to install lights of their own. Hollywood producers even made a TV series called “Friday Night Lights,’’ though apparently I missed the episode where the good people of Dillon, Texas, fought tooth-and-nail against their installation.

Which is exactly what’s gone on in bucolic Hingham.

Rather than celebrate the group for its generosity, a minority of residents did what they do best: They gathered in shrill opposition. They painted a dire picture of an entire community bathed in extraterrestrial, squint-inducing glare. They said Cushing Street would be as gridlocked as Route 1 in Foxborough after a Patriots game. They said their neighborhoods would be “radically altered.’’

They’re lights, folks. You know, Thomas Edison invented them, everyone uses them, you can’t see well without them.

“It never occurred to us that anyone would push back,’’ said Robert Hale, a local father and coach and one of the driving forces behind the effort to install lights. “We just wanted our kids to have better fields with lights.’’

When it went before a raucous Town Meeting last month, it needed two-thirds support for passage. In the end, 1,002 people voted in favor, 884 against, and the proposal thus failed.

So here we go again. The minority of petulant prima donnas had their way, leaving common sense — and the common good — in the dark.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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