The new state-of-the-art football fields like CAM Stadium and Buck Harless Stadium are nice, but I miss the charm and character of the old fields in the Tug Valley area.
Lefty Hamilton Park doubled as a football and baseball field. For many years one end of the field was mostly dirt because it also served as the baseball diamond.
It was hard and dusty in dry weather or muddy during rainy weather. Still, you knew what you were getting and it was special.
The old wooden bleachers under the cover grandstands were special, even in football, although they were built more for the baseball fans. (The bleachers were destroyed by the 1977 flood. They should have been built back, but that’s another story.)
I love Vipperman Stadium at Belfry, which now serves as the middle school field. It was previously the home arena of the Belfry High School Pirates. Nicknamed “Death Valley,” it was a tough place for visiting teams to play. It definitely gave Belfry a real good home field advantage. At one time it didn’t drain very well and I remember one playoff game Belfry hosted where the mud was ankle deep. It certainly slowed down the running game of any team.
Who can recall O’Brien Park in Matewan? The old field was located where the new grade school and Little League park are now positioned, and it was the home of the Tigers for many years.
Many former Magnolia High School and even Red Jacket High School teams took to that grand old field. It was also the home of the Magnolia Fair for many years, which took its toll on the grass field.
Then there was the old Blevins Field in Delbarton, the home of the Burch Bulldogs. Blevins field sat parallel to Pigeon Creek, with an old walk bridge for fans to get to the field on one end. It was squeezed in between the old spur railroad track on the visitor’s side and the creek on the home side, with not much room for parking.
In later years you had the old Lenore High School Field on Laurel Creek the home of the Rangers. That was a newer field compared to the others in the area. For many years Lenore did not have a football team. If I remember correctly, they started fielding a team in the late 1970s.
Of course there were many great players that strapped on a helmet, donned the shoulder pads and laced up the cleats to play on those grand old fields.
There are way too many great players to mention, and I don’t want to leave anyone out. There were countless all-state players and some who went on to play college ball and a handful that even went on to play professional football.
When you think about some of the legendary coaches who led their teams onto the fields, it also brings up many great stories from some of their former players. Names like John Moricle for the Wolfpack, Al “Bearmeat” Vipperman for the Pirates, Jim Keatley for the Tigers, Dick Roddy for both WHS and BHS, Mac Hall and Phil Sizemore for the Bulldogs and many other old school coaches.
Whether you wore the maroon and white jersey, red and white, green and white or blue and white - there were diehard fans in the stands, on the hillsides and along the creek banks to cheer on their beloved local teams.
Those were the good old days. Yes, the new Field Turf is nice, the bleachers comfortably sit many more and the lighting is much better.
Still, there is something special about those majestic old fields. On Friday nights the fans came in droves to cheer on their hometown teams.
Home games were indeed special at these small town arenas where gladiators came to battle it out.
The appeal of these fields was much more enhanced for a football player when he ran out onto the grass in his own neck of the woods. Even if it was a dust bowl, a deluge of mud or even covered with rocks, there was a since of pride for a player and his teammates to play before the hometown crowd.
There is still a lot of pride for the teams that play today when they gallop out onto the artificial turf.
But, that will never be matched by those appreciative gridiron boys of fall of the past.
(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)