A few miles from where Morrow played quarterback in the mid-1940s, his alma mater Allen High will raise the curtain on its latest field Friday night: a $59.6 million sunken-bowl stadium that covers 72 acres and includes a high-definition video screen and free Wi-Fi for the more than 18,000 in attendance.
“Well, I think that will be almost as nice as what we played on,” Morrow said, laughing.
Allen’s stadium has been held up nationally to illustrate Texas excess, the next jaw-dropping step of a high school facilities arms race in a state where football rivals religion. Tim Carroll, a school district spokesman, noted that residents of the relatively affluent suburb north of Dallas have accomplished what few others have — drawing criticism from liberals and conservatives.
On one August afternoon, Carroll said he had received inquires from NBC Nightly News, SKY network in England and a newspaper from London — and that was just in the previous 72 hours.
“We still get a lot of that Texas stereotype stuff: Everything is bigger in Texas and that people in Texas will do anything to outdo each other,” Carroll said. “Jerry Jones didn’t do us any favors by building the mother of all football stadiums” for the Dallas Cowboys.
Most in Allen defend their community of some 87,000, which Money magazine called the 16th-best small U.S. city to live in. They view the stadium as the latest jewel in a city that already boasts a minor league hockey franchise.
Eagle Stadium is part of a $119 million bond proposal approved in 2009. The proposal included a performing arts center ($23.3 million) and service center ($36.5 million), all of which was approved by 64% of voters.
The stadium also has a practice area for men’s and women’s golf. A 5,800-square-foot wrestling practice area has been added on the home side. A sprawling weight room has been added under the visitor side.
Benny Bolin, whose family has lived in Allen since the early 1900s and has its fifth generation in Allen schools, expected backlash nationally, “but we knew there would be hardly any backlash in the city, and that’s what we were concerned with. It fits in with what Allen is. Allen is about the kids.”
Born and raised in Allen, Bob Curtis, who spent more than three decades as the district’s facilities director, called the stadium a “drawing card” for Allen, adding he has read plenty of stories from “people who want to take a kick at us. I am thinking, ‘It’s not coming out of your pocket book, bud.’ “
“How would it have tied in if it had been a stand-alone structural steel facility?” Curtis said. “It would have stuck out like a sore thumb and the citizens would have said, ‘What are you all doing?’ “
The old Eagle Stadium, which opened in 1976, included 7,000 permanent seats, but the school district leased another 7,000 temporary bleachers each year for $250,000. Fans complained about long lines for concession stands and restrooms.
“I don’t know all they needed, but I guarantee you they needed a new football stadium,” said Bob McSpadden of Katy, Texas, whose website TexasBob.com details the some 1,200 high school stadiums in the state. He lists Allen’s as fifth largest.
“Do you think it’s built to fit the community? If you have people of a certain economic level then they expect their schools and facilities to be that way. It’s hard for people to understand out of state. Football is important.”
The stadium also will be a gathering point for the 5,300 students at the second-largest high school in Texas. The school sold all 8,252 season tickets for the year. The stadium will also be a showcase for the school band and escadrille, which is the largest in the nation with more than 700 members.
The stadium will host band competitions and other events, including the NFL Network‘s college all-star game “Texas vs. the Nation,” which local officials think could pump as much as $700,000 into the city’s economy.
Friday night, Allen will host Southlake Carroll, No. 8 in the USA TODAY Sports Super 25. Carroll athletics director Kevin Ozee said his school sold out its reserve ticket allotment of 1,500 in two hours.
“If you look at the number of students served (by the Allen stadium) and the number of activities that are going to take place at the stadium, I applaud them,” Ozee said. “You are keeping kids involved in extracurricular activities.”
Morrow remembers when no more than 150 fans, many cotton farmers, surrounded Allen’s field in the 1940s to watch his six-man team. He said the school nearly closed because it didn’t have enough students.
“It blows my mind to think they spent $60 million on a football complex,” he said. “It is just wonderful we have it. I hope it is as successful as it is beautiful.”