The excitement is building at five Mobile County public schools as construction ramps up and plans are finalized for their new on-campus football stadiums.
“I want it to get done. I’m real excited,” B.C. Rain junior running back Bryce Dowdlan said this week. “I show up at 7 every day to see how much work has been done. I always go over there and take a look. (Quarterback) Amari (Yelding) and I go back and forth about who will score the first touchdown there.”
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With the 2022 season a month away, the big questions are when might the first game happen at any of those new facilities and where will the teams slated for new stadiums play their home games until it does.
“The first game is a month away and, with this rain and stuff, they won’t have (any of the stadiums) ready,” Mobile County Board commissioner Reginald Crenshaw said this week.
Last May, the County’s Board of Commissioners approved the building of on-campus stadiums at LeFlore, Vigor, Davidson, B.C. Rain and Williamson. Construction has begun at each of those sites with the exception of Williamson.
LeFlore’s stadium is the furthest along but even it is not expected to be ready for the Rattlers’ first home game against Williamson on Aug. 26.
“All indications are that our stadium is probably further along than the others,” LeFlore coach Renardo Jackson said this week. “Whether we will get to host a game there this year is still up in the air. That is our hope. We want to play in the Snake Pit.”
MCPSS director of communications Rena Philips said earlier this summer that the system was still working on a plan for Williamson High’s new stadium. Once those five stadiums are completed, only Murphy among MCPSS schools will be left without an on-campus facility.
“LeFlore is close and is beautiful,” Crenshaw said. “It’s time for the schools to have their individual stadiums. It’s a long time coming. Murphy, we’ll have to find land for them. They are landlocked.”
The remaining six MCPSS high schools — Mary G. Montgomery, Baker, Alma Bryant, Theodore, Blount and Citronelle — already have on-campus stadiums.
Davidson coach Rick Cauley said he has enjoyed watching his school’s stadium come together.
“It’s real exciting, especially for the kids and the community,” he said. “I don’t know construction really well. My wife builds all my kids’ toys. When they put some bricks up, I can see that happening. But when most of the progress is being made, I can’t see anything. I do know they are really making good progress, but it’s a wait and see game. All the pieces aren’t in one box. Some of the crews are different. But it’s been really cool to watch it come together.”
MCPSS has not released an official 2022 football schedule at this point.
Athletic director Brad Lowell hoped to have one to AL.com earlier this week but that did not happen. Philips said earlier this summer that Mobile County schools would share the existing stadiums until construction is complete at the new facilities.
Coaches at Mobile County Media Days this week revealed that Davidson expects to play its home games at Baker for a second straight season; Vigor will play at Blount again and B.C. Rain will play at Alma Bryant. The plan at this point is for Williamson to play at Theodore.
That would leave Murphy and LeFlore searching for a home stadium. Several of Murphy’s games already are scheduled to be held at Mary G. Montgomery.
“Just tell us where and when and we will be there,” said first-year Murphy coach John McKenzie. “I experienced that the last two years at Vigor. We will have that same mantra. They’ve never had a home stadium at Murphy. They always had to get on the bus to go to Ladd. At Vigor, we got on the bus 15 times last year. I’m accustomed to it. They will figure it out.”
The so-called elephant in the room obviously is the availability of historic Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Multiple MCPSS schools have called that stadium home for years, but that changed last October when a shooting in the concourse halted a game between Vigor and Williamson.
At that point, MCPSS officials made the decision not to play future games at Ladd. All games following the shooting – including Vigor’s home playoff games on the way to its 4A state title – were moved.
“The good thing is we were on the road every week last year,” new Vigor coach Markus Cook said. “We played 15 away games. It’s nothing new for us because we are used to traveling. We have the mentality that we will play football against whoever, wherever. It doesn’t matter. We are going to be the best conditioned team, the most physical, wherever we go. We will be playing our home games at Mattie T. Blount High School.”
Could Ladd be in play at all again this year for any teams?
Crenshaw said it could be a “possibility, with a whole different security system set up for it and management (for the games).”
Andy Gatewood, director of security and safety with the Mobile County Public School System, said he did not have an opinion on it at this point.
But Lawrence Battiste, executive director of public safety with the city of Mobile, said he does not believe the stadium is a good venue for high school games this fall. He said he’s not been involved in any conversations about bringing high school games back to the stadium.
“My current understanding is the Mobile County School System will not play ball games at Ladd,” said Battiste. “Ladd is a viable stadium for collegiate activity. The stadium is too big to support a high school event.”
C.J. Drinkard, the new general manager at Ladd, did not return a call for comment on Friday.
The Mobile City Council’s Administrative Services Committee is scheduled to meet with the Ladd-Peebles Stadium board of directors at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. The meeting is to have a council discussion about the stadium’s future. No public comment will be taken.
So, it’s back to the waiting game for five schools.
“We are excited about what MCPSS is doing as far as getting us a stadium to call home,” B.C. Rain coach L.T. Yelding said. “We are fortunate enough to have a good relationship with coach (Bart) Sessions and Alma Bryant. We will be playing our home games there on Fridays when they are not at home or on Thursday nights if they are at home that week.
“At some point this year or most definitely next year, we will have that home field in place. There will be that pride where we can walk out the back door and we will have something do defend with our name on it. We are excited about that.”