Seeking to end disparities in school facilities, the Montgomery County Council voted last week to pick up half the $60,000 tab to erect stadium lights at schools where booster clubs are interested in arranging night sports activities.

Under the old procedures, the county refused to pay any of the cost of stadium lights and if a school or a booster club was interested in installing the lights, private funds had to be raised. Eight county high schools, generally from the more affluent neighborhoods of the county, already have installed such lights.

But 11 county high schools are without field lights, which prompted the attention of council member Isiah Leggett.

Leggett, who sponsored the measure providing county funds, said that some booster clubs do not have the resources for lights and the old system was denying some schools the opportunity for night games.

"My greatest concern was the great disparity in the community," he said.

He proposed that the county pay the entire cost of lighting, but the council balked. However, the council on a 6-to-0 vote approved the compromise to foot half the bills, if the boosters can show they can find the rest of the money.

"It's equity across the board," Leggett said.

Leggett said he believes the night games are important to encourage adults to attend games.

"Many parents are working. If they want to feel like part of the school, {night games} expand the number of programs," he explained. "There's more involvement and a greater sense of community in the school."

Leggett fondly recalled his high school night games when he was growing up in the South. "We had tremendous community support and a sense of spirit," he said. With afternoon games, "that's something we lose."

Leggett estimates that the program will cost the county between $350,000 and $450,000 over several years, if officials at each school opt to install lights in the stadiums.

The eleven county high schools currently playing under the sun include: Montgomery Blair, Damascus, Albert Einstein, Walter Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Paint Branch, Poolesville, Rockville, Sherwood, Springbrook and Wheaton.

Schools with lights are Seneca Valley, Winston Churchill, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Magruder, Richard Montgomery, Thomas Wootton, Gaithersburg and Walt Whitman. However, the county considers the lights at Seneca and Whitman to be temporary structures, because their lights perch atop wooden poles. To be considered permanent structures, the poles must be concrete.

Bill Kyle, coordinator of secondary physical education and athletics for the schools, said the lights not only will enhance attendance at football games, but also could add supporters at field hockey, soccer and track activities as well.

"Night games for football means increased spirit, attendance, particularly adult attendance, more kids, more money and more {items} sold at the concession stands," Kyle said.

An added benefit, he said, is that the problem of athletes missing classes to prepare for or travel to afternoon games could be solved by installation of lights. Coaches face the same problem because they must leave their classes to join the team at an "away" game, Kyle said.

Jennifer Andrews, a legislative analyst for the Montgomery County council, said that an individual school's decision to add lights is complicated by more than just the athletic activity. School officials also must consider whether the lights will interfere with adjoining neighborhoods and whether the noise generated from the events will create problems.