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November 30, 1996

The Perry stadium is a current topic of conversation once again because of the school bond issue coming up on December 10, when a $1.5 million proposal will be submitted to voters in this school district. First of all, let's clarify some of the terms being used here. "Perry stadium," built by the WPA in 1939, originally consisted of a baseball diamond and an adjacent football field. The football portion later was renamed "Daniels Field" to honor the legendary Coach Hump Daniels, who turned out winning teams at PHS over a period of several decades. The baseball park was ruled unsafe and closed for spectators a number of years ago because the cost of fixing it was deemed excessive.

A relatively small portion of the proposed bond issue would be used at Daniels Field to repair and replace seats, make the stairways safe to use, and build a new press box. I want to second the motion on that last point. If you have attended a PHS football game there in recent years, you already know that the seats and stairways need some serious upgrading for safety's sake. You may not be aware that the press box is an embarrassment and a disgrace for our community. It has been bad for a long time. Some 30 years ago, I used to work there on Friday nights while covering the Maroons' home games for this newspaper, and that old press box should have been replaced long before that. I don't use the press box any more, but I feel for those who do. It was, and is, too small, too cold or too hot (depending on the ambient temperature) and just generally ill-suited for its intended use.

The press coop is perhaps 10 feet long. Into that space are usually crammed the public address announcer, statisticians from both the home school and the visitors, local and visiting sports writers, one or two local radio station personalities and perhaps one or two from the visiting school. Spotters also are frequently called to those same tiny confines to assist the others in identifying the players. A single ledge is available as a work space for all those folks, and believe me it gets very cozy in there at times. The working stiffs are elbow to elbow, literally. The press box originally had windows which could be propped open when the weather allowed, but vandals repeatedly smashed every pane each summer, so now cumbersome fold-down wooden panels are used.

A wooden loft for photographers, videotapers and others was built atop the press box about 30 years ago, but it's a precarious climb up a vertical ladder to reach that facility. A similar photo loft was built on the visitors' side of the field at one point, and again the ladder leading into it gives the unlucky user a real thrill, especially when such accouterments as tripods, bulky cameras and the like are dangling from straps attached to the user's shoulder or waist.

The accommodations are bad enough that most visiting sports writers and statisticians choose to run along the sidelines, even on bitter cold nights, rather than try to fit themselves into the press box. We may have the worst press box of any Class 3A school in the state.

When it was built in 1939, our stadium and the press box were considered state of the art, the best to be found at any high school of any size in north-central Oklahoma. The walls surrounding the stadium were sandstone, the familiar chalky material which was used for so many WPA projects in this area, because it was abundant and could be quarried nearby. Our armory is another example of the WPA's utilization of sandstone. The stadium has always been owned by the city of Perry but it is now leased to the school district. The baseball park was the home of the semi-pro Perry Merchants and later the Perry Oilers, but it was also used by the PHS diamond squad. It had a beautiful infield and outfield, ample seating behind a large screen, ticket windows and a concessions booth.

Unfortunately, the stone walls became unsafe a few years ago. Mortar was loose and some of the blocks showed signs of serious cracking and general deterioration. Adventurous youngsters, and some adults, climbed along the top of the walls during games in spite of warnings that they might fall. The city, as owner, would have been liable if any personal injury claims were filed. Semi-pro baseball was no longer a consideration because by then we didn't have a town team. Structural engineers recommended closing the ball park or spending a lot of money to make it safe for use. It was hard to justify the cost needed for repairs, so the field was closed and it is now primarily used by PHS football teams for practice. Today the high schoolers and our American Legion team use the excellent Ripley Field, and pee-wee baseballers have a complex of diamonds for their games.

After the sandstone baseball park was closed, a first class running track was built around the football field and that took a chunk from the former baseball outfield.

Similar signs of decay are evident on the sandstone walls at Daniels Field, on the visitors' side as well as the home school side. The visitors' side, as a matter of fact, was never fully completed. Some visitors choose to sit on bare ground rather than on the rough wooden seats we provide for them. Boys and girls, and some adults, persist in trying to use the walls for climbing and seating, and they do so at great risk to life and limb. The wooden plank seats were covered with aluminum shells several years ago when the splintery originals were causing occasional painful injuries to fans' derrieres, but the wood continued to rot away beneath the aluminum covers.

Stairways from ground level to the top row of stadium seats are wearing away just like the outer walls, and steps inside the stadium also are potentially dangerous. They constitute an accident waiting to happen. You already know all this if you attend sporting events at Daniels Field, but some may not be as aware of the need. A short while back, new public rest rooms had to be built because the originals had been virtually useless for years.

Dressing rooms for visiting teams and for girls who participate in track and field events are sadly lacking. The original stadium dressing rooms were padlocked decades ago because they were much too small, poorly lighted and equipped, and the sewage disposal system was outdated. A wrestling room was built at the stadium after the baseball park was closed, and it now serves as a dressing room for the visitors as well as the home team. It's an unsatisfactory arrangement, coaches will tell you. If Hump Daniels were still with us, I'm guessing he would be in the forefront of those favoring updating of the field that bears his name.

It seems to boil down to two alternatives: Repair what we have or move the football field to another location and start all over. There is great sentiment and logic for keeping Daniels Field. The cost of building a new stadium would seem to be much higher than the amount needed to renovate the historic old field that we now have. When you consider that continued neglect will only make the final cost even more, it seems obvious that we must take care of the property now being used.

There are other important school matters on the ballot for the December 10 bond election, and you need to be familiar with the need for those projects, too. You'll have a chance to express yourself on all these issues at the polls on election day, but I thought you might like to hear a few details concerning the need for action at Perry stadium. Be sure to circle December 10 on your calendar and tell the school board how you feel about these very important matters.