Backup stadium has SC scrambling

Memorial Field won’t be ready until fall of 2020

Mirror photo by Sarah Vasile / Construction equipment is seen outside of State College Area High School’s South Track field on Friday afternoon.

State College has built its high school football team into one of the best Class 6A programs in the state, but the Little Lions’ home stadium, Memorial Field, has been in need of an upgrade for years.

That renovation has finally started, but it means State College will be playing elsewhere this season as work on the field is not expected to be completed until 2020.

“It’s been a long time coming,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “We didn’t have a real locker room, and there was one toilet for a team of 100 players and 12 coaches. We had no showers. It was basically a room with hooks on the wall. The visitors were in a converted cafeteria made into a locker room.”

When it was decided that Memorial Field would be renovated, where exactly State College would play its home games was in question.

Lintal said the school’s boosters, administration, coaches and players all worked together to stay in State College and get improvements to the South Track field and make hosting a football game there possible.

“Way back before the borough approved the improvements (to South Track field), I was talking to their athletic director about how they were looking at different venues,” Hollidaysburg Area High School football coach and athletic director Homer DeLattre said.

“He said they had talked to Penn State, Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Area and were looking at all of those options.”

Just last week, Penn State football coach James Franklin revealed the school had been in talks about hosting a high school football game this season.

“I know that there may be an opportunity to play at Beaver Stadium, and we threw our hat in the ring,” Chris Weakland, State College athletic director, said. “However, we have not heard any information or confirmation either way on that. We are crossing our fingers as this would be a great experience for our athletes, coaches, student body and community.”

Hollidaysburg is scheduled to travel to State College on Sept. 6 for the Little Lions’ second home game, but Penn State hosts Buffalo the next night. The proposed possible date for a high school game at Beaver Stadium was expected to be a weekend Penn State played on the road.

DeLattre has expressed concern about the amount of seating available at the South Track field, and Lintal agreed the game between the District 6 rivals would likely draw the biggest home crowd of the season.

“Back in April, they were still weighing their options,” DeLattre said. “They were talking about bringing in portable bleachers and putting our band and staff along with fans in one end zone and their student section in the other end zone. I was told we might have to provide lawn chairs for band members, and that there was a bank on the hill that if parents brought a lawn chair, they were welcome to sit there.”

DeLattre offered for State College to visit Hollidaysburg this season, and the Tigers would return the game in 2020, but State preferred to host this year.

Before playing Hollidaysburg, State College hosts Saint Augustine from New Jersey in the Aug. 23 season opener but isn’t expecting a large opposing crowd.

“Seating-wise, I think we’re going to have seats for up to 2,000 to 2,500 people,” Lintal said. “That’s without standing-room positions, which there are plenty of spots where the field is visible. The (Hollidaysburg) game will be our first test at how a legit crowd looks there. The first home game will be more like a trial run. I don’t think it would be a bad thing if people are fighting to get in, and it could create a great atmosphere that Friday night.”

The Little Lions also have home games against Harrisburg (Oct. 4), Central Dauphin (Oct. 11) and Cumberland Valley (Oct. 25) and have often earned home playoff games.

The transition from making the South Track field into a stadium that can host a Class 6A football game hasn’t been easy.

“It is a challenge that the facility doesn’t seat that many people,” Lintal said. “We don’t have lights yet, and there’s no hash marks or numbers on the field. Work still needs to be done, but we got a new scoreboard and despite all the hiccups, it’s going to be a nice facility with a great view of Mount Nittany.”

Before this year, the South Track field was used for track and field, soccer and field hockey.

The lighting fixtures are expected to arrive next week after being approved at the State College Area School Board meeting Monday.

The school and the borough had been dealing with a zoning ordinance that did not allow the lights to be used past a certain time or exceed a certain height. The plan is to install lights 70 feet high as opposed to the ones currently 25 feet off the ground.

“I’m so grateful to our administration,” Lintal said. “They were the reason we didn’t have to look elsewhere, outside of town, because they were willing to remodel another field. I’m appreciative to our school for keeping our home games at home and hopefully providing a great experience for our seniors on Fridays.”

Lintal said he’s been assured the Little Lions will be able to be back on Memorial Field by the summer months of 2020.

“It’s exciting for sure,” Lintal said. “It wasn’t ideal for a long time, but kids adapted and never complained. I’m happy we’ll have a facility with the necessities of bathrooms and excited to have a place to coach with whiteboards and video equipment.

“But for now, we’re focused on these seniors this year and recognizing the sacrifices they are making for us. It breaks their heart not to play on Memorial Field this year, but they understand what they are doing for our program, and we want them to have as good, if not better, experience as any kid who has been in our program before.”