Several weeks ago, when the image of Ely Stadium to be seen today was just an under-construction idea, Bob Dupont peered through a chain link fence as the former, nearly century-old structure came down.
It was a bittersweet moment.
Few people in Elyria have wanted a new stadium more than Dupont.
Today’s home game against Avon Lake, the first in the new stadium, is a long time coming for the booster with a recollection of the stadium’s history so precise that he can recite from memory.
“The land was bought in 1922 from a farmer and in 1927 was when the first game was played on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. “(Heman) Ely gave $35,000. Today they would say it was for naming rights, but it was to help build the stadium, and then in 1931 it was the first stadium to have lights. It was the top of the class in northern Ohio for stadiums.”
The lights helped usher in Friday night football, today a mainstay in communities across the country.
“The Pioneer league at that time did not want to play on Friday nights,” Dupont said. “They had to be introduced to Friday night football because they all played on Saturday. The history of this place is just amazing with the players that have played here.”
From Vic Janowicz to Walt Rock to players like Ike Maxwell, when talking about football at Ely Stadium, the conversation undoubtedly turns to who played on the field that once was. It also makes those same fans wonder what will be now that all the amenities of 21st-century sports facility have a home in Elyria.
“The history is tremendous here, and it will be made again at the new place,” Dupont said. “I am so, so thrilled to see this new stadium come alive. It’s sad to see the old one die, but we gotta have a new stadium for our young men and women.”
To fully appreciate just how far Elyria has come, it’s best to revisit a bit of history and the ways people have tried — and failed — to get a new stadium off the ground.
Elyria alums Doug Medvetz and Dupont tried in 2013 to raise $200,000 toward a renovation project for the stadium with hopes athletic grants could make up the rest, but the online campaign never picked up much momentum. A year later, a group of community leaders tried again to reinvigorate talks of improving the aging stadium and pledged to handle the fundraising. Nothing happened from those efforts as well.
Also in this history is a brief moment when the land the stadium sits on today came into play for another project — a new high school. But two attempts to get local funding for a new high school in November 2001 and February 2002 fell flat with voters, who ultimately decided years later to fund a high school expansion on Middle Avenue that incorporated the historic Washington Building.
It meant the south side of Elyria acreage stayed available for when voters were ready and willing to build again. That time came in 2016 when voters approved a tax issue to partially fund new schools and fully fund the first phase of an all-sports athletic complex.
Seeing the facility’s first completed parts is an exciting time, even if some finishing work is still needed, said district spokeswoman Amy Higgins.
“I know it doesn’t look the way we want it to look for a first showing, but it doesn’t take away from the excitement,” she said.
The difference is in what Elyria had for more than
90 years versus what the new complex boasts for the future is striking.
The old stadium had mostly stone parking areas and a small, paved lot that deteriorated over the years. The new stadium, with a planned new drive and entrance from Oberlin Road, will have multiple paved areas.
The more than 90-year-old concrete mammoth known for its outdated locker rooms and bathrooms can’t touch the new state-of-the-art, 15,000-square-foot field house. There, locker rooms, a training room, weight room, band storage, service garage, home ticket booths, restrooms and concession area centralize the stadium’s needs.
The stadium also incorporates all of the latest LED technology in lighting and sound, and the new scoreboard, provided by the same firm that supplied FirstEnergy Stadium, features a large video screen to enhance the game-day experience.
It is a far cry from what Bob Slager, 87, who coached Elyria track (in addition to basketball and football) from 1967-82, remembers from his days watching athletes circle the asphalt. Slager said he wondered if today would ever come.
“My parents moved here in 1927, that’s when they started building it,” he said. “My dad taught in North Ridgeville but lived in Elyria. … At one time, you might say we were the king of the roost. Everybody else looked up to us, and we had tremendous teams for so many years.”
Slager, who remembers a fateful day when members of the boys track team started a fire under the old stadium, said he looks forward to a new day at a new stadium. He will be there tonight with members from the class of 1968 as they celebrate their 50th class reunion at a place that was just a dream for so many years.
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