Updated Sun, Sep 15, 2013 4:07 pm
When the streets are empty and the tables sit lonely in the local restaurants on Friday night it can only mean one thing – it’s Big Reds night at Stadium Field.
Thousands congregate behind the bricks of Parkersburg High School in a space utilized by the entire community. However, the beginning of the 2013 football season was different. Due to the aged and faulty bleacher seating in the stadium, the Big Reds were not allowed to play their early home games at Stadium Field, and the team kicked off their year at Marietta College, about 20 minutes away. The town needed to raise funds quickly in order to assure sufficient time at Stadium Field for this season’s football squad.
But Parkersburg rose to the occasion, and on Friday, Sept. 20, the Big Reds will return home.
Fans coined Stadium Field as “The Grand Old Lady” for obvious reasons; the stadium opened in 1924. Stadium Field offers the town of Parkersburg much more than just football.
“Anywhere from our football team – which is varsity, junior varsity, freshman – we have two girls teams, we have two soccer teams,” Parkersbug coach Don Reeves explained. “Baseball practices here, softball practices here, Ohio Valley University plays here, the pee-wees play here, so it's a community field more or less.”
With the whole town of Parkersburg attached to this field, Big Reds fans took action as soon as they could. Shortly after the stadium was condemned in April, Earl Johnson, the president of the Parkersburg High School stadium committee, opened a donation pool to speed up the project. Every day since then the committee has seen donations coming in, big and small.
Reeves stressed the importance of everyone’s contributions.
"It's just as important for some grandmother that sent 100 dollars compared to some business who might have given us 30 or 40 thousand dollars,” he said.
A group took the movement to the web and organized a Facebook campaign to help save the field. On the page, fans sought out donations by selling T-shirts and throwing a bingo event that raised over five thousand dollars. Some classes of Parkersburg High’s past have even challenged other classes to a donation duel, making the fundraising effort into a competition.
Almost 90 years after its inception, the current cost to fix the stadium would shock the original construction workers of Stadium Field. Reeves held a realistic yet hopeful approach to the subject.
"The good news is it looks like we'll be open next Friday. The bad news is it took almost 1.9 million dollars just to fix half the stadium,” Reeves said. “We're still going to be able to seat almost five thousand people.” Parkersburg High School expects the away section seating to be completed sometime next year.
To a Big Reds athlete, however, Stadium Field holds more value than expensive construction costs.
"I spend more time here then I do actually at home. I'm here from 8 in the morning til about 7 at night if not after that depending on if we get in trouble out here or not,” senior Chandler Hamilton smiled as he spoke of his home turf.
"I love the people that donated. I mean honestly it's my senior year, they're giving me my stadium back, so I'm very grateful and the Hamilton family will always be there for them."
Hamilton also noted that this stadium project has only driven his team to push forward.
"I promised whenever we first got that money,” Hamilton said, “I said we were gonna be the hardest working team in West Virginia, and in my opinion we are that. We work hard every single day."
Senior punter, Kyle Foster also expressed his team’s gratefulness and excitement to get back under the Stadium Field lights.
"We really appreciate it and I think our goal is to mainly show the public and everybody that donated money that Friday night when they come out and watch," Foster said.
Reeves knows a few things about the town of Parkersburg’s strong ties with Stadium Field. He was a member of the 1976 Big Reds state championship team and understands that importance of playing at Stadium Field.
"There's nothing more important to a senior than playing his home game … being a Big Red, coming out, playing on this turf in front of a nice stadium,” Reeves said. “Even if we can only seat five or six thousand people it's still going to be exciting come next Friday night.”
If the stadium passes final inspections this Thursday, Parkersburg will finally kick off its home season inside the new and improved Stadium Field Friday night against Capital.