The USD 379 Board of Education is moving forward on building a new football stadium and selling Otto Unruh Stadium. Unruh Stadium will likely be demolished as the land becomes a commercial venture. It’s a sad day for Clay Center and for an iconic community structure but we look forward with reserved optimism to what the future holds.
If my memory serves me, the City of Clay Center transferred stadium ownership to the school district for $1.00 sometime in the 1990s. Basically, the city (the community) gifted the iconic structure to the school district since they were the site’s primary users.
I regret not trying harder over the past twenty years to convince USD 379 school boards and administrators to be better stewards of their stadium site. I apologize for not being a better advocate of Otto Unruh Stadium and demanding better from our local leadership.
I dropped the ball on doing my part to improve things and rally community support for action. Several times while working at Campbell Field I’d walk past the rag-tag, chain link fence entrance at the south end of the football stadium and get totally pissed off at how bad it looked. If you’ve been to Unruh Stadium, you know this fence. It’s been bad since I attended my first Tiger Football home game in 1994. (Mini Rant: Couldn’t we have spent $20-30,000 at some time to have an exceptional local masonry company put in matching limestone walls and gates or, better yet, a limestone arch entry/ticket booth extension ramping up to an ADA-compliant seating area?)
Being pissed off on these occasions, I’d resolve to go to Stuart Administration Center and ask the superintendent to quit complaining about all that’s wrong with Unruh Stadium and do something right for the facility. I never did. I’m disappointed in myself for not taking a stand for our facilities and demanding more from the tax dollars being banked in the district’s capital outlay fund.
Unruh Stadium is just a sports field. In the grand scheme of things, sports are not, and shouldn’t be, one of the top five priorities of a school district or a community. Nevertheless, Otto Unruh Stadium is a sports field that has deep meaning and history for our community. As the legend goes, it was built brick by brick by Clay Center citizens from locally-quarried limestone and funded as part of a WPA-related project.
The basic coaching tenet and philosophy “Brick by Brick”, which guided the latter half of my nine seasons as a Tiger Football coach, was based on the history and design of Unruh Stadium. To this day, I firmly believe we build better athletes, teams, and communities, and do better and deeper work when we create better bricks and build one brick at a time.
I’d hazard to guess I’ve spent more time in the shadow of Otto Unruh Stadium than many folks. As a fan, parent, coach, strength & conditioning coach, graduation speaker, baseball field volunteer, tour guide, etc. I’ve had a lot of experiences there.
I’ve cheered in the stands, yelled at officials, been penalized, lost heartbreaker games, chased foul balls, won thrilling victories, dealt with gut-wrenching injuries, and ran the stadium stairs in Unruh.
I’ve been a baton dad, band dad, proud dad, and a dad watching his kids learn to ride bikes there.
I’ve given tours to first graders and ended each tour with a session of top-of-our-lungs primal screaming underneath the stadium. I’ll never forget the pure joy and the smiles on the kids’ faces as our screams echoed off the walls.
I’ve seen hundreds of senior pictures, team pictures, and family pictures taken against the backdrop of the stadium’s limestone walls.
I’ve dodged tornadoes, thunderstorms, power outages, sleet at March baseball games, and long 110°F summer American Legion tournament days inside the protection of Unruh Stadium.
I’ve “felt” the roar of the Tiger Bike Night event from the home locker room prior to a Tiger Friday Night in America football game.
I’ve “Touched the Sign”.
Many who read this will say, “Hays, you’re just a sappy, pigheaded, and sentimental old fool who needs to get with the times.” Maybe so. Oh hell, I’m about the sappiest, most pigheaded, and mega-sentimental old fool out there! It’s okay, though, because it drives my passion and sometimes drives that passion a touch too far.
However, I’m also one who can recognize and see the potential in the people and the places we have in our community. I know the value of responsible leadership, the value of responsible tax dollar expenditures, and the responsibilities inherent in elected, paid, or volunteer public service.
The ultimate trust must be earned by consistent action, not lip service. Lose the public trust and lose the ability to lead.
Good luck to USD 379 and to the Tiger Legacy supporters as we move forward on the new stadium project. Brick by brick.
I’ll leave with one nugget of sports field wisdom I’ve learned over the years through time, trial, and toil:
Sports fields are easy to build. Sports fields are hard to maintain.
It’s up to us, the Clay County community, to be better stewards and demand better stewardship of our new and shiny things as well as our older and time-worn things. We cannot afford to sit back as we watch our community’s gifts deteriorate by design, lack of will, or lack of resources by our leadership.
Tiger Family always!