Last September, Tennessee State’s Hale Stadium was described as an eyesore — and that was by the school’s president.
What a difference a year — not to mention a million dollars — makes.
After months of cosmetic upgrades, the 59-year-old stadium is ready to be the grand attraction once again when TSU hosts Austin Peay at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Tigers haven’t played in the “Hole” since 1998.
“Man, there is a new scoreboard out there. The grass hasn’t been touched in a while. They won’t even let us practice down there,” coach Rod Reed said laughing on Tuesday. “They’ve thrown some paint on the walls. It looks great. I think it is going to be a great college atmosphere. It will be great for our community and great for our fans to get back in Hale Stadium.”
Hopefully they’ll show up.
With 4,000 grandstand seats situated in both end zones, the stadium can now accommodate up to 16,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, TSU hadn’t sold more than 5,000 tickets and only 200 to visiting Austin Peay. Still, school officials believe they’ll meet their goal of more than 10,000 tickets sold.
“It’s about right [on pace] for our crowd because we do typically have a large walkup crowd,” said Zellina Anderson, TSU’s lead cashier in the ticket office.
Limited to a budget of $1 million of internal funds, the necessary renovations and additions were made in order to hold three games at Hale this year as part of the school’s centennial celebration.
Perhaps the most notable difference is the appearance.
With a thick coat of white paint — and blue and yellow trim along the steps and aluminum bleachers — the flaws and cracks in the concrete structure are less noticeable.
“Just given the paint job, it is going to make it look 100 percent better,” associate vice president of facilities management Ron Brooks said. “Filling in the cracks, getting all the restrooms working and the lights ... we’ve done quite a lot of work on it.”
The grandstand seats fill out the open space behind the end zones, including a spot that used to hold a now-demolished 60-year-old ROTC building. A new entrance has been built in its place, along with new ticket booths at each end.
In addition to the blue scoreboard, Brooks said a truck with an 11-foot video screen will show live footage of the game. Temporary restrooms have been added and the three-story press box has been reinforced and updated with Internet access.
In honor of the 100th year anniversary, a 100-foot mural will be draped along the fence of the stadium with a collage of pictures highlighting some of the school’s most famous and important leaders, athletes and alumni.
“The students can’t wait because they’ve never had the experience of being on campus,” Brooks said. “When we play at LP Field, although it’s here, it’s still treated like an away game. You’ve got to pack up everybody and take them down there. Here, all you got to do is walk out the door and into the stadium. ... It should give us really a home-field advantage like other schools.”
It is to be determined if the Tigers will continue to play games at Hale beyond 2012 or stay downtown at LP Field. They opened the season in the Tennessee Titans’ stadium with the John Merritt Classic and will go back there at the end of the month for Homecoming.
“Obviously, yeah, we would like to play some games on campus but I do love our relationship with LP Field,” said Reed, who played for the Tigers in the Hole from 1984-88. “It is an amenity and a luxury that we have to be able to play at both now. So we’ll see where that goes. It is great to have those kids just be able to walk out of those dorms and come to the game. For the community around here, I’m sure it will be great for businesses.
“... You start getting a few chills looking out there. It is going to be a fun crowd.”