On Feb. 11, a small crowd gathered in the grass next to the track at Hermiston High School to break ground on the Kennison Field Renovation Project.
Six and a half months later, hundreds filled the sparkling new bleachers and hit the artificial turf field to celebrate the grand opening of the multi-million dollar sports complex.
“This is a truly historic event,” Hermiston School District Deputy Superintendent Wade Smith said on Friday. “I can only hope this complex will continue the legacy of a great man.”
The Kennison Field saga began in 1979, when its namesake, HHS teacher Kyle Kennison, came to Hermiston. Kennison taught government and economics, served as advisor to the Key Club and was the assistant football coach. But he changed the face of athletics at Hermiston High when he took over the track and field program. With fundraisers, events and donations, Kennison completed the first step of his vision for Bulldog Stadium: replacing the oval, dirt track for all-weather asphalt.
When Kennison died in 2004, his vision was incomplete.
“Well, Kyle, we finished it today,” Hermiston Athletic Director Mike Kay said Friday. “We cannot be more excited.”
The grand opening and fall sports kick-off put the finishing touches on a whirlwind project. In May 2012, the Hermiston School Board of Education closed access to the 1960s bleachers and condemned the structure. The district then began planning on the Kennison Field Renovation Project to replace the track, field and bleacher at the school.
The district pulled together $3.3 million in grants to complete a baseline project, and over seven months, the community contributed about $1.35 million in additional funding, adding back “bells and whistles” the district had cut from the project to keep it within available funding. More than 100 sponsors donated to the project. The project broke ground in February, on a timeline to be open and operational before the fall sports season.
The Kennison Althletic Complex includes a durable synthetic turf, designed to accommodate football, soccer and lacrosse; a Olympic-caliber synthetic track with individual jumping and throwing stations; an enhanced 2,100-seat bleacher system; elevator-accessible press box with video production booth; three-bay concession; and improved parking, lighting, pedestrian safety features.
Before and after the official ceremony, students and staff gave informal tours of the facility and allowed children to try out the long-jump facilities and the artificial track. Susan Dickens brought her grandson, 2-year-old Kyle Isaac, of Hermiston, to the event. Dickens said she was a little worried about keeping him entertained – until HHS junior Stetson Gilbert, a member of the school’s soccer team, asked if Kyle wanted to come out onto the field. The teen spent the next 20 minutes entertaining the toddler with a bright-orange soccer ball.
“This is great. He loves it,” Dickens said. “This is really nice.”
From cross country athletes to marching band members, the response from students was positive.
“I’m really excited to run on the track,” athlete Sofia Gispert said. “I can’t wait.”
Junior Jordan Giordano handed out free water from the concession booth during the opening and praised the facility.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “This is my second home now. All of us (students) want to come in and play on the field.”
This fall, Giordano, HHS DECA president, will take an active role in the new concession booth. During games, students and spectators will also be able to watch a live feed of the field from a wide-screen television in the concession booth.
“You don’t have to miss anything,” Giordano said. “We can’t wait. Hopefully everyone will come back next Friday.” The new athletic complex will be officially broken in on Friday, Aug. 30 when the Hermiston Bulldogs host Rex Putnam at 7 p.m. to open the football season. The junior varsity football squad will play its first game of the year that same day at 3:30 p.m.
In addition to students and local spectators, members of the Kennison family traveled to Hermiston for the ceremony, alongside Oregon State Rep. Greg Smith and State Sen. Bill Hansell.
“I’m very impressed, absolutely. It’s a beautiful facility,” Hansell said before the event. “I’m impressed not only of the facility itself but that its paid for and is going to have so many uses for the kids of Hermiston. It’s definitely something Hermiston can be very proud of.” Hansell called the complex an example of the vision and visionaries Hermiston is known for.
“A vision without work is just a dream, and nothing ever comes from it,” he said. “The people of Hermiston not only have vision, but they’re willing to work and make it happen.”