Elma High School will be having a homecoming of sorts at its first home football game of the year.
Since the old stadium was torn down, the varsity Eagles have played their home games in Aberdeen, Montesano and Hoquiam.
On Sept. 2, though, the Eagles are coming home to roost and possibly rout the Eatonville Cruisers in their first game at Davis Field in about two years.
According to a Dec. 24, 2014 Vidette article, the 800-seat grandstands at Davis Field, EHS’s home field for football and soccer, were torn down due to structural problems in June 2014. Construction of a replacement stadium and the accompanying bond funds have been nixed by voters several times in the last few years.
A $6.9 million stadium bond fund failed to pass in the November 2015 general election. While a majority of voters (nearly 52 percent) supported the bond, said the same article, the proposition required at least 60 percent approval to pass. Stadium bonds also failed in 2014 and 2011.
Cost and location of the proposed stadium have been some of the reasons cited for the bond failures. With flooding issues at Davis Field, the stadium would have been located near the Elma School District offices and away from the high school and downtown businesses.
Building the stadium at Davis Field would be costlier because of the flooding issues. Before construction could take place, the field would have to be raised above flooding levels, which school district officials say is a costly solution.
With the stadium project in question, the school board decided in a spring meeting to move forward with plans to host varsity football games at Davis Field.
“We didn’t want an entire generation of kids to graduate without playing home games,” Kevin Acuff, school district superintendent, said.
Improvements to Davis Field were made over the summer to prepare the field to host home games at a cost of about $140,000, Acuff said in a blog post.
Bleachers, which can accommodate about 600 spectators including eight handicap-accessible seats, were installed in mid-July. Mobile bleachers will be added to seat more people. With the help of two local volunteers, the lights at the field were fixed.
A concrete walkway, allowing for more wheelchair accessibility, is being completed, and the field area has been cleared of weeds and with plentiful watering, the grass has greened up. The announcer’s tower has been power-washed and a sign, marking the championship Eagles, will be repainted.
The school district did what was necessary to have the team back at their home field, said athletic director, Paul Gaskins. Having home games away took a toll, with Elma football game schedules dictated by the hosting facilities own schedules and busing in spectators.
“The atmosphere wasn’t the same,” Gaskins said.
He said not having the football games at home impacted other EHS programs, too. For one, when concessions were sold at the other fields, those funds were retained by that facility. This year, the FFA club will be selling concessions and those funds will be then be used at EHS. Also, the boosters could not sell merchandise at other facilities, but they will be back selling Eagle gear this fall.
The gate proceeds from homes games were used in part to pay for facility rental, at a cost of about $300 to $500 per game, Gaskins said. Now, the gate proceeds can be used to benefit football and other sports programs at EHS.
Gaskins said the attendance at Davis Field is expected to be between 1,000 to 2,000 people at the first game.
“We’re glad to be back,” head coach Ron Clark said, a sentiment shared by other school officials and the players themselves. He added that playing home games away took a toll on the team.
“You might think that just driving to Montesano or Aberdeen wouldn’t be tiring, but it takes a toll,” Clark said. “It’s hard to build a program when the younger kids, the middle school kids can’t go watch the team play.”
EHS principal Darrin Lowry said the students have wanted to be back home and they are excited at the prospect of playing home games. He added improvements to EHS were not limited to the football field. Over the summer, the gym floor was refinished and a new Eagle mascot was painted on it. Safety rails have been added to the gym bleachers and new banners will be put up later. The commons area has been spruced up and some bathrooms remodeled.
Lowry said having games at home helps build the community, with kids from the lower schools able to attend, and to be inspired by the Eagles on the field.
“The Friday night lights, it’s important to the community and for the kids to have something to do,” Lowry said.
Brandon Butcher, senior wide receiver, said he and his teammates have been looking forward to football season all summer long.
“I think we’re going to have a great season — varsity at home, that’s all we’ve been talking about,” Butcher said.
Other seniors said playing at home will help with morale, spirit and the team’s intensity on the field.