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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

As an Era Ends at Foreman Field, a New One is on the Horizon

By Harry Minium

Foreman Field opened on Oct. 3, 1936 with much fanfare, including a parade, a ribbon-cutting ceremony overseen by Virginia's governor and a low-scoring but exciting football game in which Virginia defeated William & Mary 7-0.

On Saturday, more than 82 years later, the stadium will go out as it came in - with a celebration.

Old Dominion will have a pep rally and concert Kaufman Mall on Saturday morning and afternoon, then put on a fireworks display, host a reunion of players from ODU's 10 seasons of football and finish the night with an emotional turn-out-the-lights ceremony.

A block party, originally scheduled for Brock Commons on Thursday, was canceled because of weather concerns. The Deloreans, a band that plays 1980s music, will instead play on Kaufman Mall from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

For generations of Hampton Roads residents who grew up watching games at the old stadium, including yours truly, the farewell celebration will revive fond memories, and surely produce some tears.

Foreman Field was once the grandest and largest stadium in the commonwealth. It hosted big-time football teams such as Georgia, South Carolina and 1959 national champion Syracuse in the Oyster Bowl, and pro football exhibitions in which Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas played.

But engineers long ago determined that the unique clam-shell sidelines of Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, as it is now known, must be replaced.

"We had consultants look at the stadium, and although it wasn't what we wanted to hear, there was just no way to save it," said David Robichaud, ODU's director of design and construction

S.B. Ballard Construction will begin tearing down the stands a few days after the VMI game, likely on Nov. 20. They will be replaced over the next nine months with new structures that include more comfortable seating that is closer to the field, new concession stands, restrooms and press box.

Seats will be roomier and concessions and restroom facilities will be larger and more modern.

"While we'll be celebrating the past, we'll also be celebrating the future," ODU President John R. Broderick said.

"The new stadium is going to provide a much better experience for our fans. We'll be able to provide them with enhanced amenities that have long been missing."

The new Ballard Stadium is set to open Aug. 31, 2019, appropriately against crosstown rival Norfolk State, which played home games at Foreman Field for nearly two decades.

On Saturday, VMI and ODU kick off at 2 p.m., and I can't think of a more appropriate opponent for this game, which has been designated the Oyster Bowl by ODU.

It will be the 16th time VMI has played in the Oyster Bowl, more than any other team.

VMI is bringing a large contingent from its Hampton Roads alumni base. The VMI Alumni Association also plans to host a pregame tailgate on Kaufman Mall for several hundred guests.

At halftime, the ODU band will form a "10," signifying that this is the University's 10th season of football. All players from the previous nine seasons have been invited to attend, and those that do will be introduced on the field.

Areas will be set up where fans can take selfies with signs indicating this was the last game played at the stadium. Historic moments from the past, including the top 10 home football games played by ODU, will be shown on the video board during timeouts.

Fans will also be presented with commemorative posters.

At game's end, President Broderick will join current and former players on the field, along with Virginia Beach attorney Sonny Stallings, to be honored for their steadfast work in public and behind the scenes which led the Board of Visitors to approve the startup of football in 2005. Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander and former Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim will be joined by Councilwomen Courtney Doyle and Andria McClellan, who represent the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium.

In 1936, there were many tributes to A.H. Foreman, who helped form the school that would become Old Dominion University and attracted federal money that allowed a football stadium to be built. His surviving grandchildren, Peggy Bartlett, a former Portsmouth principal with two advanced degrees from ODU, and Herbert Foreman Hargroves, a Richmond businessman, will attend and be honored.

President Broderick and Wilder will speak, then will come the lump-in-your-throat, turn-out-the-lights ceremony.

The band will play ODU's alma mater, followed by a short video of highlights of the stadium's past, from Oyster Bowls to a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in 1974 that drew 33,000, the largest crowd ever at the stadium.

Then the stadium's old lights will be turned off, followed by a short fireworks display. Once that's done, the stadium's new lights, which stand 60 feet taller than the ancient poles that have stood at Foreman Field for decades, will turn on for the first time.

Believe me, if you've ever played or watched games at the old stadium, it will be worth your time.

Jason Chandler, ODU's associate athletic director for strategic marketing and revenue generation, said the University plans to offer discounted tickets to residents of Larchmont, Highland Park and Lamberts Point, the three neighborhoods that surround ODU.

Residents of those neighborhoods will be able to purchase $33 tickets for $10.

"We want this to be a neighborhood event," Chandler said. "This stadium has been a part of the fabric of the city for decades, especially for the Larchmont, Highland Park and Lamberts Point neighborhoods.

"We want our neighbors to be involved."

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