Repairs help Gamewell Middle students play on home turf

Jan. 02, 2014 @ 10:41 AM

This fall, the stadium at Gamewell Middle School was filled for three games with sounds that had been absent for years – the sounds of kids playing football.

The school’s stadium was once used for middle-school football games (and for high-school games, years before that). But over the years, the stadium fell into disrepair – and then into disuse. Gamewell Middle’s soccer team kept playing in the stadium, but the football team started traveling to West Caldwell High to play its home games.

School staff couldn’t pinpoint an exact year the stadium stopped being used, but current coach Neil Ramsey remembers it still being in use when he left his first stint as coach in 1998.

Now, the stadium has weathered bleachers and doesn’t have water, electricity or a working scoreboard. But school officials are working to save the space – and to give their football team a home field.

A fluke allowed this year’s team, which was undefeated, to play three home games on the Gamewell Middle field. There was a conflict between a Gamewell game and another that had to be moved to West’s stadium, so the school hosted a Saturday cleanup and had the kids play at home the following week.

It was a hit with the kids – afterward, they were saying, “Coach, we’d rather play here,” Gamewell Middle athletic director Jason Bumgarner said. So the school let the kids play two more home games on the field.

“Every game (at West) was still like a road game for our students,” Gamewell Middle principal Michael Wyant said. “They had to get on the bus and travel to go to their home football stadium. This is something they can be proud of.”

Work is underway, with help from masonry classes at West Caldwell High, to fix the brickwork of the stadium’s bleachers. School officials also hope to replace the stadium’s now-collapsed concession stand roof, renovate the aging press box and work to get water and electricity back up and running so that the stadium can eventually have bathrooms and a working scoreboard, Wyant said.

Playing at home means students who don’t play football can attend games more easily, Ramsey said. There’s no bus ride required – students can simply walk up the hill after school.

“(Players) can look up there and see the faces,” he said. “And teachers are able to stay easier. Any time a kid looks up and sees a teacher in the stands, I think they play harder because they know somebody cares about them.”

And having a home stadium that’s not shared can serve as a point of pride for students and the surrounding community, Ramsey said.

“I hate to see a field of that quality, that good of a field, get run down like it has,” he said. “I hope that we can rebuild that and bring it back and maintain it. I think it’s a good thing for community morale – it would be nice for them to have something of their own. It’s nice to have your home field instead of always being a visitor.”