Thursday, October 15, 2009

the end of what should have been

i attended my first lumberjack football game when i was 11. my sister was in her freshman year at nau, well, back then it was asc, arizona state college. she had been a majorette in high school, even drum majorette her senior year, and was now a majorette with the lumberjack marching band. and we made the journey from casa grande to flagstaff for mom and dad's day weekend and took in the game largely to see her perform. but also to watch the football game.

lumberjack stadium was amazing. on our side the stands were covered. i'd never been in a covered stadium before. even the asu stadium wasn't covered. this was really cool.
i don't really remember much about that game. i'm guessing we left after half-time because it was pretty darned cold. but i was there long enough that i was in awe of college football, particularly our team. they sold these small cowbells, and everyone would ring them when our lumberjacks did something good. and after each score this team of bearded lumberjacks would tow the logging wheels from one end of the field to the other. this was great entertainment.

i had two older sisters who attended nau. when lynda graduated, jo enrolled. and i enrolled while jo was still there. and i so fondly remember my first game at lumberjack stadium as a college man. we dressed to go the game. sports coat, tie. and if we could find someone old enough to buy it, we'd hide a half-pint in our inside coat pocket. we weren't yet sophisicated enough to have a flask. but the bottle worked just fine. we'd hit the concession stand for a coke, sneak in a capful of two of popov vodka or ten high, add more later, and have a groovy time watching the game, ringing our cowbells and cheering on our rugged football players.

the student side bleachers were not covered. and that was a good thing. the games were almost always during the day - except for special occasion games, and while the temperatures in flagstaff dipped pretty low at times, for the most part we had the sunshine in our faces, and a few thousand tightly packed in warm bodies to keep us comfortable. a perfect setting for college football.

why then did they ruin it. in 1979 they opened the skydome. an interesting architectural structure that was the first of its kind for such a small school. heck, for that matter, i don't think any of the major colleges have indoor football even now. and in my opinion, the skydome ruined football at my favorite university.

back in the outdoor stadium days the players were tough, and the fans were too. football, you see, was meant to be played outdoors. in good and bad weather. the thing that seperates football from other sports is that it can be played in horrid weather conditions. and i played a bit of football in high school, and to me the games that were the most fun were played in the rain. slipping, sliding, getting muddy. all added to the fun.

and to me it seemed the community turned out in force to lumberjack stadium. we made lots of noise, cowbells and air horns and just fan cheering. the stands were always full. we truly had the home field advantage. now, in the dome, the cowbells and airhorns are gone. probably forbidden. and the turn out is pathetic. the student side isn't near a crowded as the old stadium would get. and even the "adult" side is very sparsely settled in. and you'd think crowd noise would be nearly intolerable at an indoor venue. but it's nothing like it was in the old days.

and now i read the article i've pasted below. i'd always hoped that someday nau would see the light and at least return football to the great outdoors for day time games. not to be. they're demolishing lumberjack stadium. and with it, in my opinion, the great tradition of college football in flagstaff. some things should never change.

Lumberjack Stadium being razed: By JOE FERGUSONSun Staff Reporter Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crews began tearing down Lumberjack Stadium this week to make room for the new Health and Learning Center.The $106 million project will replace the 40-year-old Fronske Health Center, renovate and expand the 20-year-old Recreation Center and replace the 49-year-old stadium when completed in the fall of 2011. One of the first construction subcontracts issued by the Phoenix-based general contractor, Mortenson Construction, went to Dickens Quality Demolition, also of Phoenix.The contract, estimated to be worth under $1 million, will employ 23 people for roughly the next two months.Jane Kuhn, an associate vice president, said NAU encourages the selection of local contractors whenever possible.As for the demolition contact, Kuhn said she did not know if there were any local demolition companies. But Todd Sleeper, the owner of Flagstaff-based Eagle Mountain Construction, said his company could have done the work.He said he discussed the demolition contract with Mortenson Construction, but ultimately decided against submitting a formal bid.The strict requirements to meet the green building codes for the Health and Learning Center, he said, made it difficult for him to place a competitive bid. One stipulation, Sleeper said, would have required his crews to separate out the steel from the rubble of the former stadium.Ron Wilson with Mortenson Construction said his company has already given several contracts to local firms, naming Flagstaff- based Ignace Brothers Drywall as one example.Wilson added he has received 43 bids from local subcontractors but has not yet completed its hiring process.He said the next phase will be to pour the concrete foundation and erect the steel frame for the new facility this December.The construction has already closed off a large parking lot next to Lumberjack Stadium, reducing the number of parking spaces on campus by 230, said Kuhn.Nearby streets won't be immediately affected, said Kuhn, but a different project in several weeks will close off the north end of San Francisco Street on campus.The construction bond will be paid back primarily through students fees. Students are currently paying $290 a year, but the fee will increase to $500 a year by the fall of 2011.The new Health and Learning Center is expected to be open in the fall of 2011.Joe

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