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Touchdown Club

 
 
At the heart of the DeWitt Public Schools campus is Memorial Stadium where thousands of high school football fans enjoy DeWitt's version of Friday Night Lights each autumn. Also, the Stadium is home of outstanding marching band festivals, lacrosse, track and field meets, veterans day observances, huge cross country meets and other community events. It was also used for a week as the practice facility for a top ranked drum and bugle corps unit from Canada that prepared for national competition.
 
The facility located here was built during the bond proposal of 1972-1974 when a new high school was built (now DeWitt Junior High School). Prior to 1974, the football field was located on the banks of the Looking Glass River behind the old Furstenau school. Many stories have been told of the southern sideline rather soggy with the flooded river lapping at the sidelines. And, along side of rivers you have gravel. Many more storied have been told of the infamous gravel gouges in knees and elbows.
 
The field behind Furstenau was also used in the spring as a baseball field. Similar to Michigan State's baseball field with short right field and Kirk Gibson blasting home runs into the Red Cedar River, similarly with DeWitt home runs ker-splush into the Looking Glass. And, of course the gravel gave infielders a lot of opportunity to keep their arms loose by throwing rocks and stones off the infield. Seating and parking were limited with much of the parking on the streets in the village of DeWitt. The baseball field is now directly north of the Junior High school.
 
Prior to the Furstenau field, the football field was marked out on what is now Riverside Park, on the east side of Main Street just south of the river. The hill at the east end of the field was the old train tressle for the passenger train which ran from Lansing to DeWitt. The end line for the end zone was actually up the tressle hill slightly. That would not be good for a TD pass to the corner of the end zone. Football was suspended during World War II and restarted as eight man football in 1952. In 1955, DeWitt started eleven man football.

Action from 1953

Action from 1954

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As stated, the "new" high school was built in 1972-74. The football field was build to its current location and the base ball field was built in its current location just north of the school. Three practice fields were graded north of the transportation building. The Panthers first played on the football field for the last home game of the 1973 season against Olivet. November 2, everything was complete. The seats were completed, press box finished with state of the art PA system, six light poles of lights shone brightly, new shiny scoreboard worked perfectly showing the final score of DeWitt 12 and Olivet 0. It was a great opening night. Except, the recently laid sod had not taken and came up in chunks and huge clods. The first full season was 1974 and since thousands of Panther players walked the Panther Pawed walkway from the school, down the northern ramp to the field.
Construction of Stadium

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Also, in 1973 the stadium featured a new eight lane running track around the football field. DeWitt won the State Championship in track and field in 1968, coached by William Gillingham and Thomas Kromer. Back then, the track team practiced on a 330 yard track painted on the school parking lot at Furstenau. Can you imagine the gravel encountered on the practice track? Now, in '73, the Panthers had a real track to practice and run meets. Even under the lights. Under the coaching of Barry Kloenhamer and Denny Myers, the Panther boys earned their second Class C state Championship in track and field in 1979. The Panther women came within a whisker of winning the Class B state chamionship in 2010. Many outstanding DeWitt individuals have run on the track.

Turn 4 180 yard hurdles

High Jump

1979 State Champs

Worn out Lane 4

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November 2, 1984 the facility was renamed and dedicated as Memorial Stadium. There are five indivuduals currently recognized on the Memorial Plaque.
  • Evart R. Stevens - former DeWitt educator
  • Gary K. Challiss - former DeWitt student
  • William H Abbey - former DeWitt educator
  • Douglas A. Kostal - former DeWitt student
  • James B. Lutzke - former DeWitt administrator and basketball coach.

Memorial Plaque

Original Memorial

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The DeWitt Class of 1994 is the only graduating class to hold their graduation ceremony at the Stadium.

The Stadium has gone through a number of renovations over the years although the seating on the home side is still the original size. Eighteen rows of seats stretch from goal line to goal line. The Stadium currently has a seating capacity of 3,200 on the home side. In 1995, the track was resurfaced, the playing surface was torn up and new sod laid, irrigation added and steel lighting poles and new lights installed. The old wooden light poles were cut off at the surface. The old wooden seats were replaced with aluminum seats and new seating section added on the visitor side. A new concession stand was added on the northwest corner of the facility, a converted portable class room along with a track equipment storage facility on the north east corner of the facility, also a converted portable class room. There were as many racoons stored in the building as track and field hurdles. The concession stand and storage building was painted DeWitt blue in 2002.

In 2010 and 2011, the field was once again torn up and new drainage added to help alleviate the problems especially in the south east corner of the field. That corner stays wet after heavy rains. Drainage was added into the field and along the sidelines and along the inside of the track. The retention pond in the north east corner of the facility was upgraded to support the runoff from the new drainage and stabilized on west side. Of course with the upgraded drainage along came upgraded watering availability. The old concession stand building was removed and an addition was added to the transportation building for a new concession stand along with new restrooms. A new entrance was created in the north west section of the facility and large plaza area, Panther Plaza, for kids to run and play during the game. The old racoon house / track and field storage building was removed and a new storage building on the south end of the visitor stands was built. The old worn out track was torn up as well as the track bed and a new underlayment and rubberized surface laid. The South Track Annx was improved with side by side dual pit long jump runs, side by side dual pole vault capabilities as well as new discus circles and dual shotput rings. The shot put area used to be behind the scoreboard inside the track. The long jump and pole vault runs were between the east sideline of the football field and track. New light bulbs were installed. The scoreboard got a fresh coat of paint and some maintenance work on the Panther.

Additional seating and handicap compliant ramps were added to the visitor side to bring that capacity to 1,500 for a total Stadium capacity of 4,700. There have been several crowds of nearly 5,000 for games with fans standing two and three deep along the north fence. Much of the hill at the north end of the stadium was lowered and a new handicapped accessible ramp leads to the top of the home side seating. A new building was constructed on the south end of the home side of the stadium which include team rooms, referee locker rooms and a training room. It is located there to accommodate football, track, cross country and tennis. Now the Panthers walk hand-in-hand from the highschool to the locker facility.

In 2021, the DeWitt community once again passed a bond issue for district wide improvements. A portion of that bond was for improvements to athletic facilities including Memorial Stadium. In 2022-2023 the field will be replaced with modern artificial field turf to accomodate the increased use. The past few years, the band festivals were held during heavy rains. Between the increasing number of football games with deep runs into playoffs and lacrosse and the band festivals, well, it will be a huge improvement to accomodate increased use at the Stadium. Improved drainage to accomodate the new field will be added including expanding the retention pond in the north east corner of the facility. A new 12" drain ring around the field will dump storm water into the improved retention pond. The high jump pit will be switched from the flag pole end of the field to the scoreboard end of the field. The north end of the field will be turf. There will be no other enhancements made to the Stadium in 2022. In 2023, a new modern press box will be constructed and new lighting will be installed on the existing light towers.

You may track progress on the Official Panther Picture site.

Perhaps one of the most adored, hated and photographed in mid-Michigan additions to the Stadium occurred in 1989. As referred to by one Haslett mom, "that damn thing” was mounted on top of the scoreboard for the last game of the 1989 season. The Fire Breathing Panther was constructed and installed by Ray Unger. Mr. Unger was the instructor in the metal shop class in DeWitt for many years. On a joke with Scott Lewis, the Panther was constructed from 3/16 boilerplate metal purchased by Peggy Williams from Motor Wheel for $350. Adding a furnace burner and battery, a siren off the old DeWitt City fire engine, a bucket lift donated by Capital Equipment placed the 12’ tall Panther on the scoreboard. The first game the Panther wailed often during a 54-6 victory over Ithaca. Ithaca coach Jim Ahearn shook hands with Panther coach Gail Thornton after the game and joked that if he new what the score would have been, he would have brought a can of gas with him. The Panther was first used in 1988 and was on a portable wagon that could be moved by the cheerleaders. While a teacher at DeWitt, Mr. Unger’s metal creations adorn every building in the district.

In 2018, the fuel oil furnace burner was replace by some modern techno secretative mechanism. Now, nearly every Friday night on the local TV sports segments, the camera always turns to show “The Fire!”.

What is it like??? Enjoy!!