Butler ready to open new stadium

08/31/2012 5:00 AM

08/31/2012 6:25 PM

Let it be known that the most well-known inhabitants in the 74-year history of El Dorado’s Galen Blackmore Stadium – the Butler Community College football team – never let their humble surroundings dictate their destiny.

The same can never be said about the Grizzlies’ new home, the $12 million BG Products Veteran Sports Complex that has No. 2 Butler playing host to No. 5 Blinn on Saturday night in a game that, even this early in the season, has national-championship implications.

“I still get goosebumps when I walk out on the field in the new stadium,” said Butler coach Troy Morrell, who has won three national titles in 12 seasons. “It’s surreal to me.”

Blackmore, which opened in 1937, was the home to six Butler NJCAA national championships in all, but by the end of the 1990s the Grizzlies had outgrown their surroundings, courtesy of back-to-back national titles in 1998 and 1999 – a pair of teams that featured future NFL running back and 1999 NJCAA National Player of the Year Rudi Johnson.

By the time Butler went back-to-back again in 2007 and 2008, some home games were becoming full-blown public-relations disasters. Fans arriving hours early were sometimes still not able to get seats. Parking in the neighborhood that surrounded the stadium — nestled tightly behind Jefferson Elementary School — was downright impossible.

The new stadium seats 6,000, has 10 luxury suites and a state-of-the-art press box. There are locker rooms for both teams and a 24-foot tall videoboard.

“I spent 25 years going to games (at Blackmore) and the memories there are things that will stick with me forever,” Butler athletic director Todd Carter said. “Rudi running through the mud in a region championship, those amazing comebacks against Coffeyville … and just a couple of years ago when we played Hutch when we were ranked No. 1 and they were No. 2.

“The new stadium is going to be just a great, great thing for the community. Plenty of room, plenty of space ... we’re expecting a huge crowd on Saturday and we’ve got a lot of neat things planned.”

Construction workers broke ground on the stadium last October in a joint venture between Butler, the El Dorado school district and the city of El Dorado. BG jump-started the process with a donation of more than $1 million in October 2010.

The new stadium is located across the street from Butler’s campus and has a separate, privately-funded apartment complex called The Villas attached to it. Carter estimates that more than 90 percent of the tenants are Butler students.

“We were hoping to be able to play our first game at the new stadium this October,” Carter said. “But we had such a mild winter that the crews were able to get so much more done than we originally thought.”

By spring, fans were already talking about the possibility of a showdown with Blinn. The Buccaneers, from the Southwest Junior College Football Conference, defeated Butler in 2008 in a game that drew 13,000 to Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium.

“We understand that the stadium represents something more than just our team and getting to be the first ones to play there,” Butler linebacker Tommy Sanders said. “The reason it was built was because of the other players that came before us.

“It’s up to the current players to keep up that tradition.”

And any tradition at Butler begins with national titles, something the Grizzlies have fallen just short of the last two years as back-to-back national runnerup.

Butler’s overtime loss to Navarro in last season’s season opener kept the Grizzlies from a spot in the national championship game.

“The thing I’m looking forward to is getting the people in there, the fans that have been with us for so long,” Morrell said. “Everybody anticipates what that’s going to be like when you get to game day, but I think (Saturday) is going to be special.”

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