Wednesday was an unseasonably mild day, perfect for the groundbreaking ceremony for upgrades at Greenwich High School’s Cardinal Stadium.
Members of the Cardinal Stadium Project Big Red Committee, BET, BOE, PTA, GPS administration, Greenwich First Selectman, GHS Athletic Director, football coach and a dozen student athletes gathered with hardhats and shovels to mark the occasion!
Board of Education member Joe Kelly, who was part of the Cardinal Stadium Project Big Red Committee, greeted the small, socially distanced crowd.
“This old friend held us up when we needed holding up,” he said, gesturing to the area where the old bleachers had sat for 50 years before being demolished in December 2020.
“This old friend helped cheer on teams. When we wanted to make noise we banged on the bleachers,” he added. “This old friend was here for 50 something years.”
Mr. Kelly said he calculated that over the 50 years, more than a million people who were helped “by our old friend.”
“Our new friend is going to have ramps. Our new friend is going to have elevators. Our new friend is going to have a ticket kiosk. Our new friend is going to have bathrooms. Our new friend is going to have changing rooms.”BOE member Joe Kelly who coached the GHS Rugby team for 9 years
Kelly who coached the GHS Rugby team for 9 years said his team never lost a home game in league season.
“The kids, knowing they were defending their home field, their community, their school, their friends, came up to the challenge and they performed,” Kelly added, pointing to the stadium. “As a coach, standing there, feeling that awesome power coming from behind us on the bleachers, you would get energized.”
Board of Education chair Peter Bernstein said he was thrilled to witness the groundbreaking ceremony.
“It’s fantastic to finally have some momentum on this as every student graduates from the stadium and this is truly a community project,” said BOE chair Peter Bernstein, adding, “We shouldn’t have to wait until our facilities are condemned or in a state of complete disrepair in order to repair or replace them.”
The bleachers at GHS Cardinal Stadium, were indeed in disrepair. In fact, they were condemned in April 2019.
Their storied history of those bleachers was outlined by Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, who attended GHS himself in the 1970’s.
He recalled how the bleachers were recycled after the inaugural parade for Dwight Eisenhower’s in Washington DC as a favor to Albert P. Morano, US Congressman representing Connecticut’s 4th district from 1951-1959.
They replaced wooden ones at the former location of GHS on Field Point Road that people avoided due to a problem with splinters.
The “new” bleachers were then moved to the new GHS location at Hillside Rd, but the field was built on wetlands just before the Wetlands Act of 1970, and students joked they needed flippers to take PE class outdoors.
In the late 1970s the bleachers were lifted by helicopter and flown to the current Cardinal Stadium.
More recently, after the bleachers were condemned, they couldn’t be used for the class of 2019 graduation ceremony.
Then, in 2020 there was a drive through graduation due to the pandemic.
First Selectman Fred Camillo said he recalled attending games at the old high school, watching his brother and cousins compete.
“This field here has been home to championship teams – football, rugby and other sports, and now we’re going to get a championship stadium that is representative of the championship town that Greenwich, CT is.”
Camillo praised Joe Kelly for his passion for the project.
“As I said earlier, if I ever want to start something – an initiative, a committee, a business, I’m looking to Joe Kelly, he is terrific,” he said.
During the groundbreaking, more than one person expressed optimism the new bleachers might be used for an in person graduation for the class of 2021.
GHS PTA co-president Steph Cowie said, “While we have had some starts and stops, those leading this process have always believed the importance of providing a safe and accessible stadium for our student athletes, their families, friends and all of our extended community.”
“We are hopeful that our community will be in a better place with Coronavirus in June, so that our seniors can experience a graduation ceremony that is permissible under local and state health guidelines,” Cowie added. “We also support phase 2 of Cardinal Stadium project as it continues to be a top priority of our district and GHS community.”
Cowie noted that all capital improvement project requires patience and the support of the community.
“While we have had some starts and stops, those leading this process have always believed the importance of providing a safe and accessible stadium for our student athletes,their families, friends and all of our extended community,” Cowie said. “We are hopeful that our community will be in a better place with Coronavirus in June, so that our seniors can experience a graduation ceremony that is permissible under local and state health guidelines. We also support phase 2 of Cardinal Stadium project as it continues to be a top priority of our district and GHS community.”
GHS Athletic Director Gus Lindine introduced about a dozen GHS athletes, reminding everyong that they were the reason the crowd was assembled for the groundbreaking.
“Cardinal Stadium has been a setting for many memorable athletic contests and outstanding individual performances,” Lindine said. “We are so excited for the opportunity to have a place that is so much more welcoming and inviting to our guests, to be more accessible and more comfortable for our spectators, and be more usable and productive for our student athletes.”