Public School Stadium has been an Alton landmark for sporting events since the late 1950s, most notably football.
Its tradition is long and storied. Thousands of prep players from Alton High and Marquette Catholic have enjoyed their glory days in the bowl and even more fans have filled the stands to watch.
While there’s no end in sight for that tradition, times have changed and questions of its future definitely come up. To turf or not to turf, that is the question?
Just from AHS’ perspective, six of the eight Southwestern Conference schools now play on synthetic turf, leaving only the Redbirds and Granite City on grass.
The other wonder is, as Alton has moved baseball, softball, soccer, track and field and tennis to the high school campus in recent history, could a new football field be constructed on the Godfrey campus?
There are now serious talks at the moment for a change, but it’s fun to ask these questions.
“There really hasn’t been any type of formal talks, it’s just speculation,” AHS director of athletics Jeff Alderman said. “To be honest, we need to make sure our new additions are taken care of payment wise and being able to manage them before we go off into another project.”
Public School Stadium is a respected venue for football and a distinctive one. As an Alton alum, I’ve always enjoyed watching football there and would like to see its future secured.
Marquette AD Jack Holmes was quick to give the stadium praise, too.
“Public School Stadium is one of the finest football stadiums in the state of Illinois,” Holmes said.
But it’s obvious wear and tear from housing multiple football programs and lots of games take their toll on the grass surface. Turf would be an avenue to solve that.
Cost is an issue. Budgets in the state of Illinois are extremely tight and is turfing a football field at the top of the list of priorities?
“It just comes down to what’s the smartest move for the district and obviously it’s going to be financial,” Alderman said. “Anybody that resides in the state of Illinois understands that money is short on all fronts and the Alton School District is here to provide education first and that’s got to be taken into consideration.
“The traditionalist in me, I’d love to see something done at West and see it preserved and fixed up, but that needs to be decided by much, much, much higher powers than I.”
I spoke with Collinsville School District superintendent Dr. Bob Green about the issues of cost. The Kahoks made the plunge upgrading their field and are in their fourth season on the turf.
“Just to do the turf was $450,000 and then we added the all weather track, the new scoreboards, some new fencing and additional seating and that pushed it up to about $900,000 total to do everything,” Green said.
Roughly $1 million is a fair estimate for the upgrade, not a drop in the bucket, but Green admitted it’s been a solid investment for Collinsville.
“The benefits are at the end of the football season we still have a nice field,” Green said. “Collinsville’s football field in the past could be anything from a dust bowl to a sea of mud. I was always concerned that we were going to get students hurt on that. Strictly from a safety standpoint it’s worked out well, plus we’ve used the field for a lot of other things.
“We have classes that use it, the community has made use of it as well, we’ve even had some soccer camps come in and rent the field. We even had a semi-pro football team that rented it for a few games. We’ve had a lot of positive use out of it.”
Marquette principal Mike Slaughter said discussions have become more tangible in recent history, but with a leadership change at the top of the Alton School District this year they are on hold for now.
“I know we’ve been discussing this for decades,” Slaughter said. “It was never real seriously until a couple of years ago. Dr. (Kenneth) Spells was really wanting to get this accomplished. He came to my office once with some other Alton School District people and sat down with me and showed me pictures of what they envisioned at the stadium. There were pictures of what the stadium would look like with synthetic turf and it really looked cool. They talked about their plans and how Marquette would be involved in this in the raising of the money, but then Dr. Spells left the district.
“Now you have a new superintendent in Alton and he’s got a lot on his plate, but Mark Cappel is a great person and a great choice for that job in Alton. I think it’s just a matter of time before this subject gets approached with him and of course the school board and we see where it is going to go.”
The marriage between Marquette and AHS at Public School Stadium dates back to its inception in the ‘50s and Slaughter, Holmes and Alderman all would like to see that continue and at the stadium.
Slaughter said Marquette would be willing to step to the plate monetarily, but it would have to be fair to the Explorers.
“If we’re going to use it absolutely, but we would want to do it on a percentage,” Slaughter said. “What percentage of the time do we get to use the stadium? That was part of the conversation with Dr. Spells. I think it would only be fair that we’d pay proportionately with how often we get to use the stadium.”
In Collinsville, Green said there has been advertising utilized to help with costs. About every 10 years the turf needs to be replaced and costs approximately a third of the initial price of the turf’s installation.
“We set up an initial amount we wanted to raise over five years and we’re very close to that and that was $100,000,” Green said. “We’re going to continue the practice of selling advertising space and put it in a sinking fund, or saving account going toward a new field or new track at some point.”
As for building a new stadium at AHS, there are options if that avenue is pursued. It would likely mean a cookie cutter stadium with a turf field and two sets of aluminum bleachers like many other programs have, though.
“(Piasa Motor Fuels Field) would be one option,” Alderman said. “We’ve also got some space where our practice fields are that’s an option, but once again this is all speculation. I think we would have room somewhere. Anything can be done, but it involves a lot more expenses and dirt work.
“Until there’s formal discussion and a plan set one way or the other, I can’t really say too much.”
Slaughter would rather see the facelift to Public School Stadium and thinks it could be a destination for gridders around Illinois.
“It would be such a fantastic stadium,” Slaughter said. “Besides the Alton Redbirds and Marquette Explorers playing there, we would probably be able to get teams from up north that want to play teams from the south and a good meeting point would be in Alton on that field. That way it would make money, and that’s not to mention all the band competitions or whatever else you could have on that synthetic turf.
“Public School Stadium is one of the nicest stadiums in the southern part of the state already. It would be the nicest one if some upgrades were made.”
Time will tell what happens: until then, let’s just enjoy what we’ve got and the wonderful tradition that is Public School Stadium.