It seemed like the Olean High boys’ soccer game was barely under way when a cheer erupted from the bleachers. Olean had scored a quick goal en route to an easy win over Westfield/Brocton.
Don Scholla, athletic director for the Olean City School District, and members of the Olean Sports Boosters hope they hear cheers for Huskies touchdowns in those bleachers in the not-too-distant future.
Mr. Scholla said the boosters are preparing to embark on the next phase of an effort to raise $1 million to enhance the school district’s sports field outside the Intermediate Middle School. Letters seeking donations and support from some 8,000 OHS alumni were expected to be sent out this week.
The plan includes erecting additional bleachers — including seating for the visitors’ side — lights for night games and, the biggest expense, laying out artificial turf on the playing surface. For the most part, the project would be completed with donated funds — tax dollars would not be used by the school district, except to complete a press box. Funding for the press box has already been approved by the Olean Board of Education.
The upgrade to the field would mean that Olean High would play its home football games there, rather than at Bradner Stadium.
It’s a long-discussed plan, one that was even put to the school district voters a few years ago. The proposal was rejected, in large part because it was entwined with the controversy over elementary school closings.
But the time for getting this project completed for the young people of the school district is now.
Any Olean resident who was at the Huskies’ last home football game had to cringe with embarrassment as they saw the Pioneer team and coaches huddling behind their team bus at halftime, vainly seeking shelter from a cold rain.
A letter to the editor in Friday’s edition of the Olean Times Herald, written by Olean City Police Officer Jason Hlasnick, who is the Olean City School district’s resource officer, said it all. Bradner Stadium has become untenable as a venue for high school sports, with even its basic safety in question.
But Mr. Scholla and members of the Olean Sports Boosters, like secretary Mike Nenno, don’t want to focus on the decline of Bradner Stadium. They want to focus on the benefit that an enhanced sports field on school property would be for the district and its student-athletes.
First and foremost, Mr. Scholla said the school district would control the use of its own stadium. He points out that the district has no say in how Bradner is used, nor how its natural-grass field surface is maintained. And with Huskies football games on school property, the school district and the boosters would have control over concessions, an important source of funding for any district’s sports programs.
But the benefits go far beyond.
Mr. Scholla and Mr. Nenno point out that with lights at an Olean High stadium, the boys and girls’ soccer teams could experience the thrill of hosting night games at home — and many parents and fans wouldn’t always have to rush out of work early to make the opening kick. Lights and turf could also mean that JV soccer contests could be played in the stadium, rather than the JV playing at the field on the Boardmanville School grounds.
Meanwhile, the durability of the turf field could mean that area youth soccer and football programs could play games on the field, forming an important link to the high school programs. Local soccer groups could host tournaments, while an Olean site with turf would almost certainly be in demand to serve as a site for state high school playoffs. Outdoor gym classes could be held on the field, while Olean also hosts a summer 7-on-7 football program that brings in participants from throughout the region.
The JCC-Olean women’s soccer team, which currently plays its home games in Bradner Stadium, would no doubt enjoy having a better surface to play on. Perhaps even the Southern Tier Diesel would want to negotiate with the school district for use of the field.
Of course, even the modern artificial turf surfaces, Field Turf, don’t last forever without maintenance. But the turf does allow far greater use of a field — in all sorts of weather — than any natural-grass surface could ever handle without being ruined.
Bradner Stadium, rich in history, still has its uses. It serves as the primary gathering place for Olean’s terrific Fourth of July fireworks display, while it remains a perfect venue for Olean’s extremely successful Rally in the Valley. The group behind the Olean Oilers in the New York Collegiate Baseball League has expressed hopes for renovating the stadium to host baseball.
But as Mr. Scholla points out, over the years he has sat on at least three committees, each one formed with the intention of renovating Bradner — to no avail.
He, and members of the Olean Sports Boosters, can’t wait anymore.
The time to fund and complete a sports stadium that Olean can be proud of is now.
(Jim Eckstrom is managing editor of the Olean Times Herald. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)