Neighbors Rally, Revive 'Community' Stadium

August 31, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

MOUNT PLEASANT – Josh Wheaton stood admiring the Community Memorial Stadium grass a little less than a year ago, and he knew what was coming next. 

The weeks of trampling to come would produce the same result as every year beginning in mid-September.

“I’m looking at it and thinking, I can’t believe a week ago it was exactly the way you’d want your yard to look,” said Wheaton, a varsity assistant coach for Mount Pleasant’s football team. “And now, it’s this. It’s the same every year. I knew it was coming – and by weeks 7, 8, 9, we were going to be playing in a mud pit.” 

But less than a year later, as the team prepared for its first game last week, Wheaton and his Oilers – and co-tenant Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart as well – all were enjoying something that defied any expectation: a project pulled off so quickly, it spoke well to the name of the stadium the schools share.

In less than a year, supporters of Mount Pleasant High and Sacred Heart Academy raised $600,000, secured another $300,000 in donated work, and assisted in the transformation of the stadium from an aging landmark built 50 years ago to what should again be one of mid-Michigan’s athletic jewels for years to come.

The schools reopened the stadium Friday for a doubleheader. Sacred Heart fell to rival Beal City in the opener, and Mount Pleasant then defeated Midland Dow to finish a night that saw more than 5,000 fans pass through the new gates and witness the official debut of stunning two-tone green turf that served as the main focus of a renovation that has only just begun.

“It is a community that believes in young people and certainly believes in athletics,” Mount Pleasant athletic director Jim Conway said. “I think being in a college town (with Central Michigan University), there’s that collegiate portion to it where the kids start (here), and many end up matriculating over there. And we sit right here in the middle of the city, and being the shared facility, that is kind of the focal point. We were able to use that and people latched on and wanted to be a part of it, and we’re still going.”

If you rebuild it …

Community Memorial Stadium opened in 1965 as the shared home of the Mount Pleasant High and Sacred Heart football and track and field programs. Prior to its construction, the programs had a variety of homes – CMU’s Alumni Field for the Oilers and at times the Irish, who also played at Fancher Field and at Island Park going back to at least the mid 1930s.

The new stadium construction was funded solely by the community and opened Sept. 25, 1965, for what ended as a 26-26 tie between Mount Pleasant and East Lansing. The field has remained a point of local pride since, with junior high games and the town’s rocket football teams also taking regular turns on the grass.

Most weeks during the fall see the stadium host three or four games. But Wheaton said last fall there were three weeks during which 11 games were played.

It’s not that all the activity tore up the field. But it didn’t allow the grass time to regrow after the older kids did their damage on Fridays and Saturdays.

All of that caused Wheaton to casually suggest last fall to Oilers coach Jason McIntyre that the grass should be replaced with synthetic turf. Never will happen, McIntyre responded. That conversation had been had before – including briefly when a bond was passed eight years ago that led to the repair of the locker rooms, concession stand, press box and track at the stadium – and talks about going to turf had never progressed past the idea stage.

Wheaton told his boss he’d take care of it, but nothing more was said on the topic for a couple weeks … until someone else brought it up, and McIntyre joked that Wheaton was all over it.

This time, he ran with it.

In October, Wheaton formed a committee made up of supporters of both schools. They decided they would need to raise all of the money for turf over six months – by April 1 – and split into sub committees to handle fundraising and construction.

“When I first heard about it, I was a little skeptical,” said Sacred Heart athletic director and football coach Rick Roberts, who like McIntyre is a second-generation football coach in the 26,000-resident town and has led his program for 23 years.

“I wasn’t sure we could raise that much money in that short of a time; the economy isn’t the greatest at the moment. But when I went to a meeting, and saw the energy that was around the table, I knew it was going to happen.”

Pillars of the Community

Mount Pleasant High is a Class A public school with about 1,070 students. Sacred Heart is a Class D Catholic school with about 140 enrolled. In those ways, they couldn’t be more different.

But kids at the schools grow up playing Little League baseball or youth basketball together, and a number of Mount Pleasant High families attend Sacred Heart Parish.

And there was plenty of work for all to do, and do quickly.

With money rolling in, the old grass field would need to be dug out to eight inches below the surface. Materials would need to be brought in to refill the base where the synthetic surface would be laid. 

Pennsylvania-based ProGrass did the turf work, but the rest was done with local hands and equipment.

Wheaton made contact with the Isabella County-based Morey Foundation, which pledged to match $200,000 in donations from the community. Committee member Doug Moore is a president with Fisher Companies, which does concrete and asphalt work as well as construction transportation in mid-Michigan, and his company contributed much of the $300,000 in in-kind work.

McGuirk Sand-Gravel, which had also contributed when the stadium originally was built, hauled out the old field, while Malley Construction built the concrete curbs and long jump pits. Contractor Eric Borodychuk constructed the new entrance. Straus Masonry continues to build the wall of bricks and pillars purchased by donors, and other volunteers landscaped the hill near the front gate.

“If you don’t have those kind of people in your community, this doesn’t even get off the ground,” Wheaton said.

“We thought that was there,” Conway said of the support. “This is proof.”

Still work to do 

Oilers senior Zach Heeke remembers teammates turning ankles on the old practice fields in holes left over from shot put tosses the previous spring.

Those are more or less a memory now – the varsities for both schools practice daily at the stadium, sometimes splitting the field down the middle. The subvarsity teams still practice on other fields, but the track and field throwing areas are inside the stadium as part of the new construction.

Heeke is more connected to athletics than a typical high schooler – his dad Dave Heeke is CMU’s athletic director – and Zach appreciates greatly what’s gone into his team’s new home field.

“It’s an honor, for sure. It gives us a lot of motivation,” Heeke said. “All the people who donated money to have this happen, we have to show them that we’re good enough and we want to play here, and we’ve got to play for them. It’s awesome to think of all the people who come to our Friday night games, and maybe they’re not showing up in the stands, but they’re on the wall and they’re thinking about us.”

Two members of the original 1965 stadium committee attended a celebration of the new field Thursday. Roberts, who remembers the stadium’s initial construction, believes the original contributors who have since died would be “thrilled” with how the current community has taken up their work and improved upon it.

Bricks and pillars continue to be sold, for as little as $250 and as much as $25,000, as part of the Pillars for the Community fundraising group the renovation committee set up. That money will fund a phase two that likely will include replacing original concrete and possibly adding new bleachers. Both schools are contributing together annually to a fund that will allow for the necessary regular maintenance and then replacement of the turf in 10-12 years. 

“(The committee) all wanted the same thing. And when you get a bunch of ex-athletes in a room who all want the same thing for kids in the community, it goes pretty well,” Conway said. 

“It’s just been a Mount Pleasant family, if you will."

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Community Memorial Stadium turf includes the logos of both its home teams, the shamrock for Sacred Heart and the oil derrick for Mount Pleasant High. (Middle top) Supporters have given to the stadium and the schools' players in multiple ways, from buys bricks and pillars to hanging signs. (Middle below) Sacred Heart runs a play against Beal City during Friday's game. (Bottom) Mount Pleasant High and Midland Dow players warm up before their game Friday night.

A new gate at the north entrance welcomes fans to Mount Pleasant's Community Memorial Stadium. The gate is anchored by pillars highlighting some of the project's largest donors.






The parking lot-side of the stadium pressbox, like field below, includes banners of both teams that share the field.







The uprights are padded specific to the team on the field; red for Sacred Heart's Irish and dark blue for Mount Pleasant High's Oilers.









More than 5,000 fans filled the stadium for Friday's doubleheader, these mostly supporters of Mount Pleasant High after the Sacred Heart game against Beal City had ended.








Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)