A new era in Albuquerque high school football kicked off with great fanfare Wednesday night when Manzano faced Volcano Vista in the first official game played at Community Stadium on the West Side.
And, of course, what grand opening is complete without a ribbon-cutting ceremony and fans clamoring to be among the first into the new facility.
“We are very excited at Albuquerque Public Schools to open up this brand new stadium,” Councilman Brad Winter said outside the gates before a couple of hundred fans about an hour before the 7 p.m. kickoff. “We think it’s going to be an absolute jewel for the neighborhood, the community, for Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico.”
APS Superintendent Winston Brooks added a little bit of history to the subject:
“This is the first time in more than 45 years that the Albuquerque Public Schools have opened a new (7,000-seat) stadium for students and families in this district.
“… As you will see here tonight, it will allow student-athletes not only from one side but from all around the district to showcase their abilities in a state-of-the-art facility.”
Minutes later, at 6:13 p.m., the ribbon was cut and fans began pouring into the stadium, their eyes darting every which way to soak in the sights.
Cheryl Jorgensen, Laura Horton and Julie Dilts were among the early birds. In fact, the three women can take a large dose of credit for the stadium getting funded in the first place. They were members of the Bubblegum Brigade.
“We had a group of parents from all the overcrowded schools (including Cibola and West Mesa) that got together and we wanted a bond election that would pass, and we wanted a package that would include things for the West Side,” Dilts said.
“Once the package got put together, which Laura had a lot of input in, we went with the children door-to-door with bubblegum, literally asking people to remember to vote yes for schools from the West Side whether they had children or not.” Their persistence apparently paid off.
Meanwhile, on the field, even the players were dazzled by the new venue and the glistening artificial turf.
“It’s something new, a different feeling. It’s big; it’s huge,” Volcano Vista senior defensive end Kendall Johnson said. “And we’re making history. It gets you pumped. And everyone is watching.”
Up in the press box, Hawks assistant coaches Sterling Davidson and Del Jenkins were settling into their seats for the night.
“This is far superior in everything – the view of the field, the set-up so a coach can work, it’s climate-controlled,” said Jenkins, who is the team’s linebackers coach. “(The coaches’ booth) is twice as big as at Wilson.”
Added Davidson, who’s the offensive coordinator: “It’s above and beyond anything else. It’s a football first stadium without having a track in between.”
Debi Cline, meanwhile, had been at the stadium since 3:15 Wednesday, but she didn’t plan on seeing any of the game. She said she’s in charge of concessionaires for all of the athletic venues for APS.
“We had about double what’s normal for a season-opening game,” she said of the food and drink at the two north-end concession stands open – one on Manzano’s side and one on Volcano Vista’s.
Cline figured it was going to be a long day.
“I’m thinking about 10 o’clock tonight (I’ll catch my breath),” she said.
About 30 minutes before kickoff, lines of about a dozen people deep on the Volcano Vista concourse kept the workers at the three open concession windows busy.”
“It’ll calm down once the game starts, but it will be pretty steady throughout,” Cline said.
The rush turned out to be more than steady. Late in the second quarter, the hungry and thirsty were more than two dozen deep in each line, but they moved swiftly. But had they been permitted past the checkpoint that separates the two rooting sides, there was one window without a line.
There were, however, suggestions to make the entire experience even better.
For instance, there were concerns about traffic patterns near the facility. Not to mention cheerleaders wishing they had more room along the sideline in front of the student body, and fans wishing more ticket booths were open in the minutes before kickoff.
Dan Sparago, coach of the Manzano wrestling team, made the trip west on I-40 for the season-opening game. He made it to the stadium without issue about 75 minutes before kickoff, but said he thinks there is a need for a special lane for the 98th Street exit.
“As it is right now, as you’re coming along there, there could be an accident,” he said. “You might have a long line slowing down to get off that exit and a car could get hit in the back by somebody going 75 to 80 miles an hour not paying attention.”
Nancy Edge, a teacher at Manzano, arrived at the stadium with her husband, Charlie, about 25 minutes before kickoff. She she was puzzled to find that once fans made the turn onto the entry road that spills into the parking lot, two lanes suddenly melded into one.
“And people weren’t being very kind,” she said about the merging traffic.
Charlie, meanwhile, stood in one of four ticket lines on the Manzano side that was about 60 feet long. His wait, though, was a surprisingly short 5 minutes.
“Overall, this place is beautiful,” Nancy added. “Absolutely beautiful.”
Another situation that could come into play is parking. Even though the crowd was about a few thousand shy of capacity, virtually all of the 1,400-plus parking slots were filled and vehicles were parked along the perimeter, even on the entry road.
Things could get worse when a game attracts a larger crowd.