Ready and waiting: new stadium, sports complex

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published August 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 9, 2013 at 12:32 p.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Looking out from the preferred seating in the new football stadium at Benton High School, ticket holders will have an unobstructed and shady game-time view of Panther football. The first game, against the Arkadelphia Badgers, is set for Sept. 6.

BENTON — Just a few days before the beginning of fall football practice, only a single gray helmet hung in one of the new burgundy lockers in the Benton High School Panthers locker room.

It was quiet as a dozen business people toured the new facility behind the high school. One could easily imagine young athletes’ husky voices bouncing off the walls, mixing with the echoes of metal doors banging.

The tour was to show off the new Benton Athletic Complex and new football stadium at Benton High School. The first game will be played Sept. 6 against the Arkadelphia Badgers, but the Panther players have had plenty of time to get used to the new gridiron.

“They have been practicing on the field for two years,” said Steven Quinn, athletic director for the Benton School District. “This is the players’ third season on the field, but the stadium around it is new.”

One part of the new stadium is a relic from the C.W. Lewis Stadium, where the final game of the 2012 season was played Oct. 26. The metal bleachers where the band plays were moved from the old downtown stadium to the new location.

“We moved almost everything from the old stadium,” Quinn said. “The band bleachers are the same, as are the columns of the bleachers’ cover. Only the roof panels and the lights are new.”

The home side of the stadium has 418 reserve seats, the best seats from which to watch a game. The reserve seating, with burgundy backs and seats and metal armrests, are on both sides of the 50-yard line, just below the press box.

On sunny evening games at the beginning of the season, the reserve seats will be in the shade, unlike those on the visitors’ side.

The stadium will hold 3,270 fans.

“We had to give up some of the capacity from the old stadium,” Quinn said. “But with standing room, you could have 7,000 people at a game.”

Even the idea of a new stadium was a sore point in the community a few years ago. When it was first mentioned at a Benton School District Board meeting that the team would move from the 1934 stadium, the idea was met with shock and anger by some longtime fans.

“Anytime you take into account something as historical as the stadium was, you’re going to have controversy,” said Tony Protho, the former district superintendent.

But in time, people began to think about how nice a new stadium and sports complex would be.

“I love this stadium and its history,” Margie Hughes said in an interview during the last game at C.W. Lewis Stadium. “Change is inevitable.”

Beyond the new stadium’s left end zone, as one looks from the home side of the field, is the new Benton Athletic Complex, dominated by a large indoor practice field.

“It is a big, huge multiuse building that will be used for many things,” Quinn said.

The large, open space under the white roof is big enough for a 50-yard football practice field, plus a 10-yard end zone. One corner has the layout for baseball practice, and the other corner has the layout for softball.

“The softball and baseball teams won’t have to miss practice for bad weather again,” Quinn said. “You can have 100 kids out here working out as five different teams.”

Along with the space’s use for sports, Quinn said the band could work on its routines, along with the drill team and cheer squads.

“It can be used as a classroom, and if it rains on field day, schools can bring their students here,” he said. “We will have plenty of space for events; it is gym space that is tight.”

The artificial turf is made much like the football field, with plastic fibers and rubber pellets to give the turf a grass-like feel. The indoor practice space is tall enough for punting and field-goal kicks.

It is not air-conditioned, however. It was warm and humid on the day of the tour. It did not made the weight room on one side of the indoor field look inviting.

On the other side of the field are locker rooms, as well as meeting rooms for the coaches.

“All the rooms have Smart Boards, just like in classrooms,” Quinn said.

He said high schools no longer trade game films, but the films are available on a statewide website and shared electronically.

“We can even video a practice and email it to a player to watch at home,” Quinn said.

The field is ready for the first game, but the Panthers won’t return home for a while.

“We open at home, and then there are two away games,” Quinn said. “The Salt Bowl is at War Memorial Stadium [in Little Rock], and then we have another away game, but three of our last five games are at home.”

Staff Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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