Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 30, 2012

MARK MAYNARD: Friday's game may be last at 'old' Putnam Stadium

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — Barring some monumental upsets, Ashland’s Class 4A football playoff opener against Covington Holmes on Friday night could be the last game in Putnam Stadium as we’ve known it.

So if you want to sit down on those wooden bleachers attached to the concrete stands one more time, make plans to be there.

Because the Tomcats are district runners-up to Johnson Central, they are guaranteed only one home playoff game.

Circumstances could change but it would take some upsets for Ashland to play at home again this season.

Here are scenarios for another home game if, of course, Ashland wins its playoff opener.

-Boyd County would have to defeat top-ranked Highlands in what would be classified as the Upset of the Century. That’s no knock on Boyd County but pure reality.

If the Lions could miracuously do that, they would come to Ashland for the regional semifinals.

-Ashland would have to defeat Highlands in the regional semifinals next week and also have either Rowan County, Covington Catholic or Harrison County emerge from the other semifinal.

If Johnson Central wins the regional semifinal, the Golden Eagles would be the regional final host by virtue of being district champion.

Given those scenarios, it’s clear that if you’re a betting man, the Tomcats — win or lose on Friday —are going to be playing at home for the last time this season.

The Ashland school board has already given the go-ahead to phase 1 of the Putnam Stadium restoration project. The first phase is $1.5 million and includes replacing the aging concrete stands with enclosed aluminum bleachers.

The 75-year-old stadium was built as a WPA project and opened in 1937. The infrastructure has had some patches but is showing lots of wear and tear. It’s only part of the natural aging process. It wasn’t made to last forever.

Safety issues

Superintendent Steve Gilmore’s concern was safety for the students and fans who attend the game. That’s why he is squarely behind the Putnam Stadium Restoration project that will cost in the neighborhood of $5 million.

Most importantly to him is the first phase, which takes care of the safety concerns.

While bids aren’t in yet, the school board has given the OK to begin taking down the stadium when the season ends for the Tomcats.

The hope, of course, is to have everything completed in time for the 2013 season next fall.

For many, the last game at Putnam Stadium — if it’s Friday or in the weeks ahead — will be a sad occasion. The home of the Tomcats has served the community well for 75 years with many special events, including non-football related.

There have been band competitions, concerts, fireworks, soccer games, revivals, and other happenings in one of Ashland’s best known locations.

It’s been the site of first dates, sheer joy, heroic moments, triumphant celebrations and monumental heartbreaks.

When people think of Ashland, the historic stadium is one of the landmarks that carries the most emotion, especially with longtime residents who have played there and maybe watched their children or grandchildren compete as

Tomcats.

Iconic venue

Performing at Putnam Stadium — be it as a football player, soccer player or band member — is much like taking the stage at the Paramount Arts Center.

They are two of the most iconic venues in the city that tug at the heartstring with their very mention.

Even opponents who have played or coached in Putnam Stadium have some reverence and respect for the grand old place. They often recall their victories and biggest plays.

The pride that burns so brightly in Putnam Stadium is an example of a community coming together as one. The stadium is cared for by volunteers who appreciate its history and importance.

It’s because of them that Putnam Stadium doesn’t show its age. The field is always manicured to perfection and never looks worn. But even their love can’t fix the weathered wounds of 75 years.

The Putnam Stadium Restoration Committee has been planning and fundraising for five years. They certainly see the upgrades as something that will make Putnam Stadium a better and more safe place for everyone. It’s their aim that the stadium’s integrity remains the same. The bleachers that are coming will be in the same place as the wooden bleachers. There will be more reserved seats and the two grassy corners will be filled with seats as well, forming even more a bowl effect that has made the stadium so unique.

Total seating will probably be increased by around 1,000.

A bigger press box, small concession stands at the open ends of the field and new locker rooms are part of phase 1, too.

You will notice a difference next fall.

The hard part will be watching it fall because of the memories attached. That’s understandable.

Naysayers will say they should have done nothing, that the stadium would have stood for another 75 years. But the naysayers aren’t responsible for anyone but themselves.

If you ever looked underneath the stadium, you’d wonder how much longer it would hold.

Engineers would tell you the stadium is living on borrowed time, although no one could accurately predict when something might happen. The school board correctly and unanimously agreed it was better to ere on the side of safety.

The time is right for the change to keep Putnam Stadium a viable and safe place to watch high school football for the next 75 years.

In the coming years, when other phases of the project come to fruition, it will be a showplace just like it was when it opened in 1937 as Tomcat Stadium to much fanfare.

There’s plenty more fundraising to be done. Committee members Greg Jackson, Donna Suttle and others will come asking for the community to be part of those next 75 years with donations.

Don’t think of this as the end.

Think of it as the beginning.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.