The Allen Eagles are finally back in their state-of-the-art stadium. The $60 million facility closed its doors in February 2014 after large cracks were found in the concrete. But tonight the football state champions are kicking off their first home game since repairs were finished last spring.
When the high school’s Eagle Stadium first opened in 2012, it was met with Texas-sized fanfare. It was a shimmering multi-million dollar facility for 18,000 roaring fans, a 38-foot-wide high-definition video screen, corporate sponsors and nearly 200 restrooms. It made national headlines, and ESPN even called it “the palace of high school football.”
Football fans raved about everything from the spacious seating to the numerous concessions stands.
“It’s got everything you could want in a stadium,” said Ken Fratt in a CBS 11 broadcast back at Eagle Stadium’s inaugural game. “When I first read about how many restrooms and concessions stands they had, I said, ‘Now that’s a top-notch facility there.’”
The stadium was approved as part of a $119 million bond package in 2009--even as some school districts across the country and the state struggled financially. It was a decision that local officials and Eagles superfans defended as a community centerpiece and a source of pride for years to come.
But shortly after the stadium’s grand opening, people started finding major cracks in the concrete, and the headlines started to change. Local and national news outlets railed against the setbacks for students and the poor outcome of taxpayer dollars. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann went so far as to call those who approved, funded and built Eagle Stadium the “worst persons in the sports world.”
Allen ISD hired consultant firm, Nelson Forensics, to investigate the problems. Among others, they identified "design deficiencies" in the stadium's elevated concourse that failed to meet building codes and jeopardized the safety of the structure. Daily class activities were relocated, and the stadium was closed for both public and private use. That meant no graduation ceremonies, no football games and no practices.
“The worst thing was not being able to walk out the door and practice,” said head football coach Tom Westerberg. “We were on the bus every day because we bused over to our old stadium to practice, we bused over there for off season, we bused somewhere else to play.”
Westerberg said while the traveling was inconvenient, the team’s morale never changed. The Allen Eagles ended up taking home the state championship last year -- their third consecutive win.
“The whole thing our kids learned real fast was that they don’t worry about things they can’t control,” Westerberg said. “[We] had a great group of seniors and a great senior quarterback so it didn’t affect them one bit.
PBK Architects and Pogue Construction, who built the stadium, repaired it at no cost to Allen ISD or taxpayers. Crews reinforced the scoreboard and press box with steel to withstand high winds. Metal beams now support the concessions stands, and steel braces were added at the entry ramps. PBK also doled out $2.5 million in lost revenue and expenses to Allen High.
A triumphant return
The stadium reopened in time for graduation this past spring. But as it is football country, the game tonight marks the stadium’s “formal” re-opening, and it will be the first time the players will have played an actual home game since late 2013.
Fortunately, a season on the road has made them impervious to pressure. Senior Gregory Little says the team’s been practicing hard like it does for any game.
“I feel pretty good. I’m excited right now,” Little said at a recent practice. “I’m pumped to go play with my teammates and go get a [win].”
Senior Levi Onwuzurike admitted that while traveling for away games was certainly fun last year, nothing beats the cheers of the fans at home.
“Oh it’s a blessing. I definitely miss it,” he said. “It’s a whole ‘nother level; it puts you in a whole ‘nother zone. It’s honestly unexplainable until you actually get in it, so I can’t wait for it.”
The Allen Eagles play the Denton Guyer Wildcats tonight. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.