Monday, April 18, 2011

The Stadium....

As a child, I had the good fortune to be reared on a Seneca County, Ohio farm. During my elementary school years the district was comprised of our small village and the surrounding townships, but just prior to my entering junior high school, our little local school consolidated with two other small country districts to form a much larger new school district (I should note that the new school was and is still a “small” school). Our little village school had competed athletically with the others for years (perhaps decades), and there was considerable dating and intermarriage among the families of each of them, so the new culture was not much different from the old…just larger. There was some hangover from the historic rivalries as they newly-formed school board sought to find a location for building the new high school complex. The three older schools would continue as elementary and junior high facilities. 

Despite the lingering sense of loss by the old timers, many in the new district worked together to forge a new identity. Their small town, farm values would not allow them to indifferently stand by as the new community developed its own unique persona. As a youngster in the system, I was thrilled about the prospects for the new school. I was a football fan, and the original three schools did not play football…just basketball, track and baseball (pre Title IX). My mother’s brothers played at a nearby district, and I enjoyed the opportunity to attend my youngest uncle’s games. Also when I was eight years old, one my uncles took me to see my first Ohio State game at Ohio Stadium. It was sleeting, snowing and windy as we sat in “C” Deck (way up in the nose bleed section) and cheered for the Buckeyes as they battled Wisconsin. I was a football fan…and our new school was seriously considering adding football. They did add the sport, but I faced some difficulty as I attempted to get on the field. Our family was a farm family, and my Dad suspected that football would interfere with my chores at home.

We ganged up on my Dad. My uncles, my mother and I reasoned, pleaded, promised and begged so that I could put on the pads and follow my heart. The summer before my sophomore year Dad relented. He did more than merely give in because he took his truck and moved our new coach into the area. In the previous two years our school had not yet won while playing a JV schedule, but our new coach brought organization and optimism to the program and the district. We went 1-9 my sophomore year. Our first season with a varsity schedule. Bad? Certainly, but we won the first game in school history. Woo hoo. Our junior year we were 6-3-1 and shared a three-way tie for first place in the conference, and our senior year we finished at 7-2-1…good enough for 2nd place. We NEVER played a home game because we did not have a stadium. Every Friday or Saturday game included a bus ride.

During the winter of my senior year, the school’s booster club announced that they were going to construct a football stadium. In today’s world we would tap the business community for big bucks to do it, but it didn’t work that way in the farm culture. Yes, they raised funds, but not very much. They raised enough to buy unassembled bleachers for home and visitors and lights to brighten the field. Then they began to work. Volunteers surveyed the field and set grades, and other volunteers moved the dirt and sowed the grass seed. A convoy of farm trucks drove to the manufacturing plant to pick up the stands to save shipping costs. Boosters used hammers, squares and donated lumber to construct a press box/coaches perch, concession stand and ticket booth. Farmers, merchants and factory workers assembled bleachers, erected the donated light poles, strung electrical wire, ran the plumbing and equipped the concession stand. The fall after my graduation was the inaugural season for the new stadium.

In the 47 years since the stadium was built, the wooden bleacher seats have been replaced by metal ones, the press box was improved and enlarged, the concession was made bigger, and a new work out locker-room facility has been added. The original bleacher structure still stands. In the past 47 years no one has been injured by collapsing bleachers, nor has anyone been electrocuted due to faulty wiring. The press has remained on top of the stadium, and no one has suffered from unsanitary food or conditions in the concession stand. And there have been some darn good football teams and players on that field. My dad was an instrumental force behind the community action for the stadium. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame for his efforts to build the field. Unfortunately, he passed on before his recognition, but he was a tremendous example of what our people and our communities can do if government stays out of the way.

By the way although I never played on the new field, I did broadcast games from the press box, sat in the stands as my daughter was a statistician for the football team, and prowled the sidelines when my son played. Also I frequented the concession stand without encountering the scourge of ptomaine.
Tomorrow I will discuss the outhouse. The stadium and the outhouse illustrate our changing nation.

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