A little more than 80 years ago, a move started to build a football field behind the then-Wilmington High School on Locust Street. Prior to that, ironically, the WHS football teams played their games at Wilmington College.
Fast-forward to 2015, and the WHS football team once again makes a move from the college to that gridiron layout nestled into a patch of land bordered by Thorne Avenue to the west, Clinton Street to the north, Sherman and Grove streets on the east and Locust Street on the south.
The Wilmington football team welcomed Alumni Field on Nov. 26, 1936 with a 39-25 win over Xenia in the annual Thanksgiving morning game.
The Hurricane and Buccaneers kicked off at 10 a.m. in zero-degree weather. Approximately 1,000 attended the game, it was reported in the News Journal post-game report.
After 71 seasons of football, and other sports, Alumni Field had seen its better days. The concrete stadium structure, built in part with Works Progress Association funds following the Depression, was crumbling and no longer safe to accommodate a large crowd. Thus, each WHS home football game would be a road trip to the Townsend Field on the Wilmington College campus.
But this Friday, Wilmington returns to Alumni Field for the first time since that 2007 season with a varsity football game against Vandalia Butler. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. — and expect it to be a bit warmer than it was for that game 79 years ago.
Beginnings of the field
The Wilmington school district was seeking funds to purchase land and began construction of a football stadium at Wood Street and Sherman Avenue, according to the May 15, 1935 edition of the News Journal. For its part, the Wilmington High School Alumni Association voted to purchase the land and construct Alumni Field, it was reported in the May 25, 1935 paper.
Kay Fisher, of the Clinton County Historical Society, said the football team had been practicing on land behind the school, which opened as the third Wilmington High School in 1910.
In March of 1936, Alumni Field was expected to be ready for the upcoming season. Flood lights were said to be on the agenda, but more likely those wouldn’t be in place until the 1937 football season. All other South Central Ohio League schools had lights for their field.
However, the field was not ready for the start of the 1936 season. In fact, the first four games in 1936 were played at WC. Even though the lights were still not ready, the playing field and seating were in good enough shape to play the home finale against Xenia on Thanksgiving Day. It wasn’t the official dedication game, that wouldn’t take place until the lights were installed for the 1937 season.
So let’s take a look at some firsts and lasts for Alumni Field:
• First win: Obviously, the opener against Xenia. WHS played at Wilmington College the previous four home games that year. Amos Smith was the winning coach.
• First touchdown: Bill Channel, a WHS senior who recovered a blocked punt by Donald Davis in the end zone for a touchdown against Xenia.
• First defensive touchdown: Also, Bill Channel, who returned an interception 60 yards for a score against Xenia.
• First night event: Sept. 15, 1937, intrasquad scrimmage attended by 500, according to NJ reporter Bob McNemar. The Orange defeated the Black 24-0.
• Official dedication game: Oct. 1, 1937, versus Washington Senior.
• First PA announcers: For the 1937 season, Fred Murphy and Rod Telfair.
• PA announcer in Hurricane Returns: Sept. 11, 2015, Bill Liermann.
• First SCOL game: Oct. 1, 1937, versus Washington. This is the official dedication game for Alumni Field.
• First SCOL win: Oct. 1, 1937, against the Blue Lions. More than 2,000 filed their way into Alumni Field for this one and the Hurricane dominated. Like the first official game against Xenia, WHS scored on a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone. Myron Hale blocked the punt and Martin South recovered for Wilmington’s first points. Ironically, a player for Wilmington named Butler (Herschel, in this case) scored a couple of touchdowns. Earl Jones, who also booted a 65-yard punt, scored two touchdowns as well, both on interception returns. His great-nephew, Marque Jones, is an assistant coach for 2015 the Wilmington football team.
• Last win: Aug. 24, 2007, over West Carrollton, 31-6. The season opener in the final season, until now, for Alumni Field. WHS lost the next four at home that year. Quinten Rollins had two touchdowns in this one, flashing the football ability that has landed him with the Green Bay Packers.
• Last SCOL win: Oct. 4, 1991, a 13-7 triumph over the McClain Tigers. Roger Ilg, now the WHS girls track and field coach … again, was the head football coach for that SCOL home finale.
• Last touchdown in SCOL game: Oct. 4, 1991, a Doug Eastes 10-yard run put the winning margin on the scoreboard for the Hurricane.
• Last fumble recovery in SCOL game: Oct. 4, 1991, by Howie Lunsford, whose recovery helped seal the win over McClain.
• Last WHS points: Oct. 26, 2007, with a safety in a 41-2 loss to Turpin. The safety came in the second quarter.
• Last touchdown: Oct. 12, 2007, a six-point run by Malcolm Heard II, who just returned from playing professional basketball in Australia.
• Last game: Oct. 26, 2007, against Turpin. The Spartans were loaded and ranked No. 3 in the state in Div. II at the time.
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.