Improvements to stadiums help recruitment, draw more fans

Hobie Brown

Renovations are being planned with hopes to make what many believe are much-needed improvements to Fred G. Hughes Stadium.

The facility has housed the Lions for three decades.

“If you look under the main stands, you are going to see that it is very old facility. It’s been 30 years since it was built,” said University President Julio León.

The age of the stadium is only one issue in the growing push for improvements.

“There is a strong need to take care of these problems,” León said.

The problems León speaks about include the stadium not being fan-friendly.

“The stands on the opposite side of the main stands are unfinished. They have been sitting like that for a long, long time. The fans also complain because they are far removed from the action. There is some big space between the track and the stands. In most football stadiums, the fans are right next to the track, closer to the action,” he said.

“It looks bad to see the visitor stands going half-way up into the air,” said sophomore free safety Casey Ellett.

In addition to the location of the stands, other issues such as Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and marketing have to be considered.

According to Pittsburg State University Athletic Director and football head coach Chuck Broyles, corporate sponsorship played a huge factor in funding renovations for Carnie Smith Stadium.

“We have installed 24 luxury boxes here at the stadium, all of which have been made possible by private donations or by selling the boxes and having individuals or corporations sign a 10 year lease,” he said.

Another prime area of need are facilities for media, game officials and dressing areas for cheerleaders, dance team and athletes.

“Every football stadium across the country has a building either under the stands or on the side of the stadium where the players dress up and shower before and after. We don’t have that,” León said.

“Our track facilities are good, and I believe we have the best venue for basketball around,” said Lions football head coach Bart Tatum. “Our stadium pales in comparison to those of the top teams in the league, as well as some of the marginal teams in the league.”

“The players have to go across the street. They should not have to do that,” León said.

Crossing the street for practice and games is just one issue. Valuable time is lost when team meetings are held away from the stadium and any medical attention needed during practice or games results in athletes being sent back across the street. If severe weather were to occur during a game, fans in Hughes Stadium may not be able to obtain the proper protection from the elements.

“(The lack of stadium facilities) is a tremendous detriment to the ability of our football program to recruit students,” León said.

The quality of the facilities and player recruitment are linked together, some coaches told The Chart.

“There is no value on the facilities or their condition in recruiting players for the sports programs. They see the commitment,” Tatum said.

“Most players are open for recruitment,” Broyles said. “They are looking for someplace to be comfortable. I believe we have the best campus owned facilities in Division II today.”

Other coaches agree with Tatum and Broyles.

“Facilities are big in recruiting athletes out of high school,” said Northwest Missouri State University head coach Mel Tjeerdsma. “They are looking for a place where they will be staying for four to five years,”

“Obviously the nicer facilities that you have, the easier it is to recruit prospective student athletes. The more things going in your favor, the easier it becomes,” said Truman State University head coach Shannon Currier.

The renovation process is in its early stages, according to Southern Athletic Director Sallie Beard. “The architect will help us establish our timeline. We’ll choose the best plan and go from there.”

Some conference officials said the renovation process can be hectic, providing temporary problems for fans.

“In 2002, we played with temporary bleachers while renovating Bearcat Stadium,” Northwest Missouri Athletic Director Robert Boerigter said.

Renovations need to meet not just the desires of the athletes, but also the needs of the fans.

“I’d like to see the seating closer to the action, press box improvements, and end zone facilities with a locker room and coaches offices,” Tatum said. “Luxury boxes would also be a good improvement. Half of the teams in the league have them.

“An end zone facility would help to centralize player and coaching areas, which would be a major benefit. It’s where the players live; it’s where they stay.”

Players said they would also like to be closer to their fans.

“If the stands were closer, it would be a better football environment,” said Elbert Johnson, senior defensive end.

Other MIAA schools have made some improvements to their stadiums and are still looking to do more. Northwest has been playing on the same site since the 1920s.

“Our biggest reason for renovating the stadium was because of its age,” Boerigter said. “The student side was delapidated and needed more seating. The west side also needed more seating and better accommodations. Our goal is to provide a safe, esthetically friendly place,”

Tjeersdma said the Bearcat’s home leaves nothing out.

“Our stadium meets any need we have. It has luxury suites, a video board, everything you want,” Tjeersdma said.

Boerigter mentioned the need of lighting for the stadium and adding artificial turf as two upgrades needed for Bearcat Stadium.

Broyles said PSU has made many improvements since he took over coaching duties.

“The press box was here in 1988 or 1989,” he said. “Since then there has been a $1.5 million addition. We added an upper deck to the east side of the stadium and we’ve replaced the field turf.

“If the city of Pittsburg closes Joplin Street, then we want to make a plaza on the west side of the stadium to honor past coaches and the All-American players from our program. It’s part of our master plan.”

Truman State University head coach Shannon Currier hopes to get improvements to Stokes Stadium soon.

“The practice surface needs improvement,” he said. “We hope to get a new surface on our game field. We would also like to improve meeting space, player lounge area.”

Missouri Western State University students got involved with renovations to Spratt Stadium when they approved a tuition increase of $5 per credit hour for the first 12 credit hours to help pay for upgrades. An $800,000 artificial turf was installed over the summer.

“The fee is based off a focus group,” Missouri Western Athletic Director Mark Linder said. “The fee goes to a benefit package for the students that include fee admission for students and their families, a free food and drink item from the concession stand, priority parking for off campus students and a babysitting service during the games. What money doesn’t go to the benefit package goes to the facility improvements.”

Linder said that the benefit package has already affected the total attendance this season.

Though improvements are needed at Hughes Stadium, players are still glad to call it home.

“Our stadium is not a bad stadium,” Johnson said. “Compared to Pitt State or Northwest Missouri State University, it’s low.”

“I’m content with Hughes stadium,” Ellett said. “It’s a great field to play on,”