By DENISE DICK
City high school football players haven’t played on a home field since 1993, but a fundraising campaign to be launched today aims to change that.
Paint is all but peeled off the bleachers in the once-grand Rayen Stadium, and weeds sprout through the cracks in the concrete steps.
The campaign launched today, co-chaired by Jim Tressel, former Youngstown State University and Ohio State University football coach, and the Rev. Dr. Lewis Macklin of Holy Trinity Baptist Church, seeks to raise money to renovate Rayen Stadium, which saw its first high school football game in 1924.
“It’s been 18 years since we’ve had a home field for Youngstown city school
athletes,” said Ed Matey, school district athletic director.
During that time, the high school teams played home games at YSU, but that scheduling has become difficult, he said.
“At East, we’ve had 10 games on the road this year,” Matey said.
Up until this year, middle school, freshmen and junior varsity teams played at Rayen, but those games moved to Chaney this year to preserve the Rayen field.
The high school team has traveled all over the state, which makes it difficult to build a fan base. Many parents can’t afford to travel each week to watch their child play football, perform in the band or cheer.
Total renovation cost of Rayen is estimated at $3 million and includes synthetic turf, lighting, locker rooms, concession area, public restrooms, press box, storage and parking area and updated seating to accommodate 7,000 fans.
The school board already allocated $1 million from money generated through the sale of bonds as part of the Ohio School Facilities Commission project to rebuild school buildings. That money can be used only for capital improvements.
“The board supported this from day one,” Matey said.
The Rayen trustees have pledged $200,000 for the stadium’s naming rights.
The stadium renovation idea initially was proposed by former Superintendent Wendy Webb. It’s also endorsed by Superintendent Connie Hathorn, who sees it as a way to instill pride.
“Our kids need a stadium,” he said.
Although Hathorn sees athletics as important in schools, it’s not his chief concern.
“This isn’t my priority,” Hathorn said. “Academics is.”
The stadium would be used for all varsity, junior varsity, ninth grade and middle school games and would be available for community use, youth football and flag football teams.
The plan is to play the first game there in fall 2012. Pennants from all of the city’s high schools — North, South, Rayen, East, Wilson and Chaney — will fly at the top of the finished structure.
The campaign is asking for $200,000 for the naming rights of the field and $30,000 each for naming rights of the press box, locker rooms, concession area, lighting and scoreboard.
The Rev. Mr. Macklin said the project will provide a sense of cultural and civic pride as well as a sense of history.
“As we reinvent Youngs-town city schools, it’s not only in terms of its educational offerings but its athletics as well,” he said. “Youngstown city schools produced some of the best athletes in the country, if not the world. In many ways, it’s a tribute to them and to those who have mentored and coached them throughout that time.”
Besides the schools, though, the stadium restoration project is important for the community at large as well, Mr. Macklin said.
“It will enhance the neighborhood,” he said.