The last time the Gloucester High football Fishermen took the field at Newell Stadium, fans sat in stands that were bowed and sagged at several points.
The field itself was riddled with ruts and holes. There were no permanent rest rooms, only portable toilets, for spectators, and the track that circled the field was so peeled off and full of holes that the GHS teams had not been able to host a meet on it for six years due to safety reasons.
When Gloucester High opens its high school football season Friday night against Lynn Classical, it will do so on a sparkling new playing surface that serves as the centerpiece for Gloucester’s “new” Newell Stadium — the result of a $3.5 million public private partnership that has drawn emotional and financial support from the city, the state, a number of local businesses, a prominent nonprofit foundation, and more than 300 area residents who have kicked in $1,000 or more apiece as part of a massive four-year, private, grass-roots fund-raising drive.
The 7:30 p.m. Friday game will be preceded by opening ceremonies and an official ribbon cutting starting at 6 p.m. The gates will open at 5 p.m., with a “parade of athletes” welcoming former GHS players and participants set for 5:30. All of the first-night ceremonies, including the game, are free to the public.
It was a little more than four years ago that Dick Wilson, one of the prime organizers of the nonprofit Gloucester Fisherman Athletic Association, picked up a peeled-off piece of the woebegone track and showed it to friends as a sign that the facility needed urgent attention.
“I showed it to one person, and we thought ‘what must the kids think of us, as adults, if this is what we give them?’” Wilson recalled Wednesday. “I thought, we can do better than this — we have to do better than this.”