The high school football season kicked off Friday night across South Dakota. And perhaps nowhere was it celebrated more than at the newly-remodeled Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls. This past year, the well-known facility underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade to make it what some say is still one of the premier stadiums in the upper Midwest.
Howard Wood Field; it's a place where young athletes tackle their dreams, ambitions run wild, and emotions are raw. But to appreciate the history of Howard Wood Field, we first must look back at its track record.
In 1923, then Washington High School coach Howard Wood saw a need for a place where young athletes could showcase their talents and compete against one another.
That place was on East 10th Street in Downtown Sioux Falls, a simple track with a football field, named after the man who started it all, Howard Wood.
"What was it like? Bad if you fell," 88-year-old Arnie Bauer said.
Bauer ran track at the first Howard Wood Field. He remembers it being pretty primitive and muddy when it rained. But he also remembers having deep admiration for Howard Wood, the man who coached him and became known to many as the "Little General."
"He directed everything. He was more involved in lives of kids than anybody in the school. You just didn't call that to his face, but everybody knew it," Bauer said.
Then in 1957, the decision was made to relocate Howard Wood Field to an open area on the city's northwest side. At the time, it was a one-of-a-kind stadium, seating 10,000 people.
It's where high school players honed their skills under the shadows of the legendary Howard Wood.
"I remember one thing he said. 'In football, when you throw that football, there are three things that can happen and two of them are bad,'" Bauer said.
But things were looking good for Howard Wood Field. It was one of the premier American football and track facilities in the region. In 1961, the Minnesota Vikings played their first exhibition game against the Dallas Cowboys at Howard Wood Field.
While quarterback Fran Tarkenton tossed Hail Marys in the 70's, well-known television evangelist Billy Graham gave his own Hail Marys at Howard Wood in the 80's.
But in its 55-year-storied career, Howard Wood Field was beginning to show its age and was in need of serious upgrades.
Field turf was installed to replace the natural grass in 2003.
And last week, the school district held a ribbon cutting on a $7 million renovation project to upgrade the stadium and track.
"This old athletic shrine has definitely taken on a new shine today. I think that's the best way to summarize it, and I can't be prouder of that," Sioux Falls School District Athletic Director Mark Meile said.
The improvements include a new running track, grandstand seating, better access for people with disabilities and a remodeled press box.
"I've always said it's been one of the better ones in the upper Midwest. And I think with the renovation, it will move up in that standard, have that pleasing affect to the eye," Meile said.
When you look around at all the improvements at Howard Wood Field, it's hard to believe at one time when the city was looking at building an events center, they were thinking about tearing it down.
It was one of the options on the table that would have broken the hearts of so many athletes who made their marks here, including Arnie Bauer, who coached many years at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays.
"Thank God it didn't happen, that would have been a big mistake," Bauer said.
"I have to commend our superintendent and school board for going slowly and having discussions with the city, being patient, sorting through the process, finding out this was the right place for the events center and this was the right place for Howard Wood Field. It all worked out in the end," Meile said.
Inside the locker room at Howard Wood, there's a plaque that hangs above a doorway that athletes tap as they prepare to run onto the field that reads "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits."
And now looking at this monumental structure, many feel the same way, happy the school district never quit on Howard Wood Field.