Vigor coach Markus Cook leads his players onto the field at the Wolves’ new on-campus stadium before the ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday. (John O’Dell/Call News)
LeFlore students celebrate in the stands Wednesday as the school’s new on-campus football stadium celebrated its ribbon cutting. (Arthur Mack/Call News)
By ARTHUR L. MACK
A new era in high school football in Mobile County began Wednesday when LeFlore and Vigor high schools held ribbon-cutting ceremonies for their new on-campus football stadiums.
The stadiums are two of five facilities being built on Mobile County Public School System campuses — the others are at Davidson, B.C. Rain and Williamson — which were approved by the school board in May 2021 at an initial cost of $2 million to $2.5 million. But the costs ballooned to $5.5 million for Vigor’s stadium, which seats 3,500 fans, and $5 million for LeFlore’s, which seats 4,000. Money for each stadium came from a bond issue and the stadiums are configured to each school’s classification.
Davidson’s stadium is scheduled to have a ribbon-cutting on Thursday and B.C. Rain’s on May 22.
Alma Bryant, Baker, Blount, Citronelle, Mary G. Montgomery and Theodore already have on-campus stadiums and field turf for each has been approved.
Mobile County School Board President Sherry McDade, a graduate of LeFlore and an instructor and the athletic director there, was emotional during her school’s ribbon cutting.
“Today was super amazing for something I’ve dreamed of for the past 20-something odd years and has come to fruition,” she said. “We’re thankful that I and the superintendent (Chresal Threadgill) were on the same page in reference to having stadiums in our districts.
“This week, we cerebrate 55 years of Rattler Nation — 55 years as a school in the Toulminville community. What a great day to be able to open up the stadium after serving 55 years in the Toulminville community. It’s an exciting time for our football team, our community and the students here at LeFlore. We want them to be the very best and that’s why we got a football stadium on our campus.”
McDade said she hoped Wednesday’s ceremonies will increase momentum for building Williamson’s facility, which has been mired in controversy whether to build it on campus or on land owned by the City of Mobile.
“One of the things I admire the most when people come through here and they see the stadium, they have pride and that just resonates with me,” McDade said. “I know there are four stadiums that are going to be built, and I’m sorry about one of them (Williamson), but I promise you we’re going to have the same momentum over at Williamson. They’re going to get their stadium.”
LeFlore coach Renardo Jackson said an on-campus facility will help with other sports as well as sports for LeFlore’s feeder schools.
“It’s very impactful,” he said. “Not only do we have a place to practice, we have a place to prepare for our games and we have a home field to defend, so we’re beyond excited just to have access to a stadium.
“Every game will at least provide an opportunity for multiple sports and activities on campus to financially benefit. There’ll be fundraisers for multiple sports, such as soccer and opportunities for our feeder schools to play middle school football and soccer, so it’ll be great for the Toulminville community.”
Less than eight miles away and 3½ hours later, students, coaches and dignitaries gathered for Vigor’s ribbon cutting.
“It’s a great honor just to be the head coach of Vigor and being here at this stadium at the high school I attended 10 years ago,” Wolves coach Markus Cook said. “I can’t wait for May 20 (for the Vigor-McGill-Toolen spring game) so our fans can come and pack this stadium out.
“We have the best fans in the state of Alabama. They’re going to come and support us. They’re going to travel and they’re going to keep us uplifted. It’s a great honor to have the fans like we have.”
Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner said the revenue source the stadium will provide is huge for the school and the Vigor athletic program.
“You have a champion school and a champion football team,” Gardner said. “You can’t have anything more exciting than that.
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful thing to create their own funding source. The whole thing is about creating collaboration. You have the school board, you have the commissioners, you have the school, the teachers and the students and athletes. This is a wonderful thing.”
School board member Dr. Reginald Crenshaw said when he asked Threadgill about building a stadium at Vigor, it sparked the building boom.
“He said, ‘If I do that, I’ll need to build one for all the schools,’ so this is the culmination,” Crenshaw said. “We look forward to students not having to jump on a bus to go and play their home games. They can just walk out of the locker room and start playing.”
Crenshaw also highlighted the obvious financial benefits of Vigor playing on campus after years of playing at Prichard Stadium.
“It should also have a big economic impact because people are going to be coming in, they’re going to be buying gasoline, Cokes, Sprites,” he said. “It should have an economic impact. It’ll be something the city can be proud of.”
It’s great that many of our local schools now have on campus stadiums like the rural schools BUT why in the world would the School Board equip them with artificial turf which is the cause for 37% more injuries than natural grass? Let me guess. Regular grounds keeping and striping is not required. What a price to pay if our young, still growing and developing, athletes are injured on this proven dangerous turf surface and perhaps a promising college or professional career destroyed. There is a current movement in the NFL to get rid of all turf fields and there are many interviews with players attesting to the dangers yet here we are putting it down in our high school stadiums.