Memorial, Olympia stadiums see decline in number of games they host _lowres

Advocate file photo by Richard Alan Hannon Memorial Stadium, off Interstate 110, seats 21,500, making it too big for some of the smaller schools in the Baton Rouge area.

Memorial and Olympia stadiums have stood the test of time in Baton Rouge. The role the two BREC stadiums play in the future of high school football is up for debate.

“When things were at their peak there were maybe 16 (high school) games played at each stadium a year,” BREC sports manager for special facilities Marc Palmer said. “You had games on Thursdays and Fridays. The average has been around 12.

“There were drop-offs the last few years, and this year it’s dropped more. One reason for that is the fact that Catholic High only has four home games. And some schools are opting to play at other sites.”

The addition of on-site stadiums at several high schools, coupled with the opening of Louisiana Leadership’s Doug Williams Stadium, has cut the number of games the landmark facilities host. Each stadium is scheduled to host just eight games this season.

Palmer said there always will be football at Olympia and Memorial because the stadiums host the bulk of the area’s youth football games.

With Belaire High set to join the ranks of schools hosting games this season and Madison Prep moving toward other sites, two more schools tied to the BREC stadiums are breaking away. Though BREC charges $850 per game, a figure lower than rental fees at other sites around the state, schools cite costs and convenience as reasons for taking their ball and going elsewhere.

“I grew up playing at Memorial,” Madison Prep coach Michael Roach said. “For us it doesn’t make sense. We’re a 1A school with 200 to 300 kids, and we’re not going to draw a big gate.

“The rental fee is just part of it. By the time you pay the officials, pay for security and rent a bus it can run you $3,000.”

In Baton Rouge, “elsewhere” has multiple meetings. With the additional of Glen Oaks’ stadium two years ago and Belaire this fall there are 20 sites in East Baton Rouge Parish that can host games. The total includes Istrouma High’s stadium, which sits empty after the Recovery School District closed the school for a year in the spring.

Put that number into perspective by considering these numbers — New Orleans schools in Jefferson/ Orleans Parishes use nine stadiums; Shreveport’s Bossier/Caddo Parishes have 15 stadiums.

Roach said Madison Prep will play its home game with Redemptorist at RHS and is in the process of working out logistics on a couple of other games.

MPA hopes to play at Leadership, which offers its artificial turf field free of charge. Schools must abide certain rules, including those for conduct.

Palmer concedes rental costs went up after BREC did much-needed resurfacing and drainage work at both fields, doing Perkins Road-based Olympia in 2011 and downtown Memorial in 2012.

Memorial, which opened in 1949, seats 21,500 and is considered too large for smaller schools, though it has traditionally been home to inner city schools like Capitol and Glen Oaks. Two years ago, GOHS revamped its on-campus stadium that hadn’t been used since the 1960s and now hosts games there.

Olympia seats 7,000 and was traditionally the host site for Catholic, Belaire, St. Michael the Archangel and Tara. Belaire is now out of the mix, and St. Michael plays many of its game at Leadership’s Williams Stadium, which opened in 2010.

Catholic plays most of its games at Olympia but plays some rivals and playoff games at Memorial. The Bears will host rival St. Amant at Memorial on Oct. 10.

McKinley coach Robert Signater understands why schools want other options. He said high profile games will continue to be played at the BREC venues.

“You can play most of your games at a smaller stadium, like ours,” Signater said. “But we don’t have enough seats to host Scotlandville, and they don’t have enough seats to host us.

“The Downtown Showdown (the Capitol-McKinley game) needs a bigger venue. It will always be at Memorial. And I’m sure the bigger playoff games will be there or Olympia. Even if the rate is cheaper than other people pay, it’s still not one we’re used to paying.”

Belaire coach Keith Woods said his school is busy preparing to host three games, including a season opener with Glen Oaks on Sept. 5.

Unlike Glen Oaks, Belaire did not have an existing stadium but has a field with a track and a full set of bleachers on one side.

“We’re in the process of getting lights put up and moving in bleachers on one side,” Woods said. “We’ll have less seats on one side, but we’re going to do our best to accommodate the crowds we have.

“It’s been tough for some schools, like Belaire, to pay for the stadiums. Unless you can bring a crowd, you can lose money. We’re hoping more people will come since we’ll be at the school.”

Coaches said picking up the added costs for lights and stadium upkeep, including cutting the grass and marking the field, isn’t a deterrent.

“Every school has to do what they think is best in their situation,” Signater said.