The Lima Stadium, 78 years of age, will fall victim to the wrecking ball in the next few days. The west stands, erected in 1936 by the WPA (Works Project Administration) during the Depression, will be replaced by a state of the art grandstand. The aged and noble structure will disappear, but not the memories.
For nearly eight decades the Lima Stadium was host to some of the greatest sporting events in Lima history. In 2002 the Department of the Interior added it to the National Register of Historic Places, the only high school football stadium in Ohio to achieve the distinction. Structural issues caused the east side grandstand to be replaced in 2010 and now the home side will join it in its repose.
Walter “Bugs” Koch, the popular, long-time trainer with the Lima City Schools was nine years old when the stadium first opened and remembers the first football game ever played there. “My mom and I jumped on the trolley car and rode it all the way from Ewing Avenue to the stadium,” he remembers, “it only cost a nickel for the ride.”
The stadium also hosted track and field events and, in recent decades, soccer games. But it was football that lured the crowds to the east side edifice. Lima Central High School, Lima South High School, Lima Senior High School, Lima St. Rose High School and Lima Central Catholic High School all used the stadium to host football games and those contests provided memories for their fans that will never be erased.
Perhaps the most memorable games played in the Lima Stadium were the annual showdowns played between Lima South and Lima Central High Schools and contested on Thanksgiving Day. Those games became an event witnessed by nearly every football fan in the area. The largest attendance for a game in the history of the stadium was probably the 1946 South vs. Central contest. According to the Lima News article covering the game, just under 10,000 fans squeezed their way into the stadium that night to watch Central High School secure an undefeated season and lay claim to Ohio’s mythical state championship.
My own memories of the stadium began as a youngster watching Lima Senior and Lima Central Catholic football games in the late 1950’s and early 60’s.
The Spartans played in the GOL (Greater Ohio League) at the time, regarded as the most powerful league in the state. I watched Tom Barrington, who would later play for The Ohio State University and the Washington Redskins, run into a wall of defenders and knock them down like a pile of bowling pins. When the Spartans hosted Middletown or Springfield South, you had to get to the game plenty early if you expected to find a seat.
I was in absolute awe watching my Thunderbirds and dreamed of the day I would be playing on the same field. My eyes focused on Jim Lynch, who would later captain Notre Dame to a national championship and win a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. So many great football players competed in the Lima Stadium, too numerous to list.
I have two memories of my own playing experience at the Stadium. I scored the first touchdown of my high school career there in my junior year. In our opener, against Toledo Rogers, I ran a flag pattern to the end zone on the northwest corner of the field and when I looked back for the football, I discovered it was already in my hands. Mike Williams, our gifted quarterback, had thrown the perfect pass. I was so shocked by the event I tossed the ball as high in the air as I could in a spontaneous reaction of pure joy and jubilation.
The other memory at the stadium I will always carry with me occurred in the last game of football I ever played. The parents of all the seniors were invited to sit along the sideline on folding chairs next to the team benches for our final game of the season. It rained in torrents that night. Late in the contest LCC was moving down the field for the winning score and a third down pass was thrown in my direction. The football was tossed out in front of me toward the sideline and I had to dive to make the catch. I lunged for the ball, secured it, and made the catch just inside the out of bounds line. When I hit the ground I began to slide on the wet, muddy field. I must have slid ten feet and when I came to a stop I looked up and realized I had come to rest directly beneath my Mom and Dad’s chairs. I looked up and said, “hi Mom and Dad” and then hustled back to the huddle. Believe me, it doesn’t get any better than that for a young athlete.
Everyone who competed in Lima Stadium has their own memories and I’m sure the brand new digs will offer a great perch to witness many more to come. But allow me, and many, many others, to mourn the passing of this wonderful old friend.
Bob Seggerson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org