Around town, feelings are mixed about the Lawrence High football program’s move from historic Haskell Stadium to an on-campus facility that has yet to be completed.
At the school itself, however, the reaction to the new era of LHS athletics has been favorable from the coaches and athletes who will call the new facilities home.
“It’s exciting,” senior football player Taylor Coleman said. “Walking around the halls, everyone’s always coming up asking us how the team’s going to be. The next question they always ask is, ‘Where are we watching you?’”
It’s a valid question.
For the first time in 78 seasons, the Lions will play their home games at home. No more treks east to Haskell Stadium, no more muddy fields, no more concrete cathedral.
“It feels different,” said LHS football coach Dirk Wedd, who played at LHS and has coached there for the last 20 years. “In fact, it feels so different that we’re going to practice having it be our home field (today). We’ll practice leaving out the bus ride to Haskell, which is as much a part of the history of all of this as any of it. And I don’t think it will really sink in until our first game when we don’t take that bus ride and we don’t walk through the arch.”
Despite his admission that the new facility feels odd, Wedd went on to talk about how wonderful it will look when it’s finished.
Coleman elaborated about how excited he is to be a part of a senior class that helps start a new tradition at LHS.
“It seems pretty cool to think that in X number of years, we will be the senior class, those eight guys, that started it all,” Coleman said.
The LHS football program is not alone in entering the world of upgraded facilities this fall at 19th and Louisiana. The LHS soccer team, which has played its “home” games at rough and rugged Youth Sports Inc., also moves to LHS full-time this season.
For now, LHS coach Matt Anderson’s team will have to wait for its official home field to be finished. That venue will be located off of 21st Street, south of the school’s main building. In the meantime, the Lions will begin their season on the football field and will spend most days anticipating the arrival of their new pitch.
“We’re glad to have (the football) surface to play on,” Anderson said. “It beats the heck out of what we’re used to. And overall, this whole thing is huge. It’s fantastic. I go by (athletic director) Ron Commons’ office all the time just to look at the plans and what it’s going to look like. When it’s finished, we’ll be the envy of almost any high school around.”
Senior forward Tor Fornelli also is eager to try out the new turf. This spring he watched the LHS girls play — and win — their final two home games on the new field and he can’t wait to kick off the beginning of his team’s era in what he hopes will be a similar style.
“It’ll be pretty cool to christen the field,” Fornelli said. “I’m really looking forward to having our own place to play. The even playing surface will be nice. Now, when you’re one-on-one with the goalie, the ball won’t bounce away from you to the right and make you look foolish.”
Even the girls tennis team, which had its home courts displaced completely during the construction, has maintained a positive attitude about the new digs.
“Initially, it was a little inconvenient and a little disappointing because we were looking forward to having new courts this year,” LHS coach Steve Hudson said. “But it’s really an exciting time. We can’t wait to see the new courts and we know they’re going to be there someday, hopefully by spring.”
Although the new facilities don’t directly affect volleyball, cross country, gymnastics or girls golf, the sense among everyone in red and black is that this latest step forward for LHS athletics is one everybody can be proud of.
“It’s going to be fabulous,” said Commons, an alum, former coach and current AD at the school. “Every day they’re doing something new and we get closer to it being a finished product. Because it is so brand new, it’s exciting to be a part of a new era.”