Goodbye, Veterans Memorial Stadium

09/23/2008 – Daily News Record

$30K Demolition Should Be Through By Weekend Written By Heather Bowser Daily News Record Contractors hired by JMU began knocking down Veterans Memorial Stadium just after lunchtime Monday. The $30,000 demolition is expected to be finished by week’s end. Photo by Pete Marovich HARRISONBURG – On Monday afternoon, Jack Fries didn’t want to mow his lawn and his friend, Tom Showalter, "just didn’t have anything better to do." So, the old pals drove down the road to Veterans Memorial Stadium on South High Street, plopped down in the shade of a young tree and camped out for the afternoon. Fries puffed away on a cigarette or two, while Showalter just enjoyed the entertainment 20 yards in front of them. There, a backhoe and a "breaker" poked and pulled through the concrete stadium, banging, clanging and kicking up dust. Contractors hired by James Madison University began knocking down the structure just after lunchtime Monday. A handful of onlookers – including Fries and Showalter – congregated around the scene, and traffic on South High Street slowed a bit as drivers eyeballed the destruction. "I thought it would come down a little faster," Fries said, taking another drag on his cigarette and shrugging. At least, he said, it was better than cutting the grass – sort of. Fries’ wife of 47 years, Samuella, was likely to rebuke him for avoiding his chores, he said. "She won’t yell. But she might not cook supper for the next six weeks," he joked. The New JMU expects demolition, which is estimated to cost about $30,000, to be finished by the end of the week, said Frank Viscomi, senior mechanical engineer with JMU’s facilities management. By Thursday, a machine will begin to grind the concrete into 4-inch pieces, which will later be used as fill for the new stadium, he said. JMU doesn’t have an official start date for construction of the new softball/baseball complex, which will replace the old stadium, but officials anticipate the facility will be open for the 2010 baseball season. The school also hasn’t signed a contract or negotiated a price for the complex but an earlier presentation to JMU’s board estimated the cost at around $9.7 million. The new baseball stadium will face the opposite direction as the current facility, Viscomi said. "The batters will not face the sun anymore," he said. The baseball part of the complex will seat 1,200 people and will have synthetic turf, officials have said. The softball section will seat 500 people and have a grass outfield. The existing softball field on the west side of the property will remain as a practice field. The Old The old stadium cost $75,000 to build when it was erected in the late 1940s. It was dedicated in 1949 in honor of the 139 area service personnel killed during World War II. Two local men, Claude M. Morrison and Clarence "Tucky" Leake together raised much of the capital themselves, according to family members. "My father was a very unselfish man," said Leake’s daughter, Annabel Fawley, 79, of Harrisonburg. "He never wanted any recognition for anything." For decades, the stadium was home to the Harrisonburg High School Blue Streaks and the Valley Baseball League’s Harrisonburg Turks. The Streaks have played at a field at the new high school on Garbers Church Road since the school opened three years ago. The Turks plan to use the new baseball/softball complex along with JMU. For now, though, Harrisonburg folks will wait for a chance to savor new baseball memories. Curt Dudley, the "voice of the Turks" since 1985, visited the site on Monday, just to watch the demolition – and a few passing memories. "I’ve spent a lot of summer nights here," said Dudley, also the director of multimedia communication for JMU Athletics. "I wasn’t on the field, but I was here." The roofless press box, where Dudley spent nearly 23 years announcing strikes and homers, remained for a few more hours, with its glass door swinging in the wind.