By Sean Horgan
---- — There’s always a Christmas-type buzz to the new stuff.
That would explain the sense of excitement Dick Wilson carried with him late Friday afternoon as he made his way through the first flow of visitors to the official opening of the newly reconstructed Newell Stadium and its New Balance Track and Field.
Wilson finally made his way about three-quarters of the way up the new metal bleachers, before turning around and basking in the glow of what he and his merry band of visionaries had wrought.
Stretching out in front of him, all that was old had turned new.
New Fieldturf playing surface.
New bleachers, bathrooms, scoreboard, goal posts and concessions stands.
In all, a new day for Gloucester High School sports, and for a facility that, first dedicated in 1923, is once again expected to host a variety of other civic events as well.
“Look around and see how hard all these volunteers are working getting things ready for tonight,” Wilson said. “That’s how it’s been all along. This is the type of community stuff you just can’t buy.”
The gates were supposed to open at 5 p.m., but the new grandstand — which elevates the stadium’s capacity to 2,250 from the old 1,800 — was about one-quarter full by 4:45 p.m. All along the span of new bleachers, kids and adults kept the view of the shiny new digs that came with a price tag of more than $3.5 million.
“It’s just perfect,” said Jerry O’Neil, GHS Class of 1949 and member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. “I’ve never seen a better high school complex than this track and this field.”
The only glitch to the opening — and it wasn’t even that — was that the flood of early arrivals caught the new concession stands and volunteers by surprise. The nacho cheese sauce hadn’t quite come up to the proper temperature by the time folks started ordering them. Also, the concessioneers were still waiting on the 40 pizzas from Poseidon, which arrived shortly afterward.
But if that’s all Friday night’s shakeout cruise produced, the grand opening of the new Newell had to be considered a raging success.
Just after 5 p.m., a trail of boats made their way down the Annisquam and out through the Cut Bridge. Off in the distance, the harbor sparkled in the cooling temperatures as a schooner pressed its way out toward the mouth. Four days removed from Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer, it suddenly felt like football weather.
Right on time, at 5:30 p.m., the pre-game festivities kicked off as the Parade of Athletes made its way in front of the packed stands, led by the GHS Marine Corps Junior ROTC carrying the colors.
Then came the athletes from eras past, followed by the current edition of the Fighting Fishermen football team, the GHS cheerleaders, the field hockey team (which actually christened the new stadium earlier in the week with a shutout victory), soccer team, lacrosse team and representatives from the Relay for Life of Cape Ann.
They circled the new track once, then broke into formation on the field as Mayor Carolyn Kirk took the mike at midfield and spoke of the history of Edward Dolliver Newell Stadium — and the more recent history of the stadium’s makeover.
Kirk, styling in her New Balance running shoes, was effusive in her praise of what she referred to as the “dreamers, the doers and the donors,” and especially singled out Wilson and Jonathan Pope for their vision four years ago and their perseverance in making their dream of a new Newell Stadium a reality.
“They relish what it means to be in the community of Gloucester,” Kirk said. “They truly love the city of Gloucester.”
As Kirk paused, Wilson and Pope were urged to take a curtain call. They broke from the ranks and walked across the track toward the bleachers, straight into the teeth of a standing ovation.
Kirk ended her remarks by thanking everyone who contributed and everyone who worked on the renovation. The length of the list was impressive.
“It is a testament to our community’s generosity that you have donated over $1 million,” she told the crowd.
And then she turned to the student-athletes massed behind her.
“I hope we’ve made you proud and that you all enjoy this field,” the mayor said.
Sean Horgan can bde reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.