The closing of Memorial Stadium, which will be unofficially commemorated this evening, marks not only the closing of a chapter in Demopolis High School football history, but also the celebration of a venue around which much of the city’s progress centered.
“Any time you got to put on the blue jersey on a Friday night,” Mike Grayson, who was a sophomore on the DHS football team when the stadium officially opened its doors in 1967, said of his favorite memories inside the City of the People’s iconic facility.
Much like the task Demopolis players will face next year when they christen their new on-campus stadium, Grayson and his 1967 teammates experienced the responsibility reaching a level of play that met the expectations which accompanied such a structure.
“We had a nice new stadium,” Arthur Evans, quarterback of the 1967 squad, said. “It was huge and when you’re down there on that field and you look up and see all those stands, it’s impressive.”
“We had a premier stadium. It was cutting edge back then,” Evans said.
The 1967 Tigers did right by their new facility that first night, landing a 14-7 win over nearby Greensboro. That recollection is one of many Grayson and Evans cherish from their experiences in the facility.
“We never lost to Linden on that field,” Grayson said of the team then known as the Linden Red Devils, the Tigers’ biggest rival of the day.
“It was a tremendous rivalry,” Evans said.
The stadium’s early days also saw the Tigers host the school formerly known as Butler High in a 1968 match-up that drew Montgomery Advertiser’s distinction as the game of the week.
“They were a good team, no question about it,” Evans said of a Butler squad Demopolis downed 6-0. “We won on a touchdown pass right before the half, a 40-something-yard touchdown pass to Cotton Eddins.”
While the game which was played within it changed dramatically over the years, the stadium itself underwent a slew of alterations. Before the locker room facilities were added under the bleachers on the home side, the visiting and home teams dressed at what is now Demopolis Middle School. That fact meant both squads had to make the trek under Cedar Street and through the tunnel.
“That was pretty exhilarating,” Grayson said. “I always thought that gave us an edge for the visitors to have to run through the tunnel of doom and gloom.”
“Running through the tunnel on Friday nights was a thrill,” Grayson added. “Monday through Wednesday? Not a thrill.”
The Tigers’ success on the football field during their 41 years of play at Memorial Stadium has been unquestionable.
However, it was arguably the activities and the societal changes of the stadium’s infantile years that most influenced the direction of not only Demopolis football, but also the city as a whole.
The stadium was constructed during the heart of the Civil Rights movement, at the tail end of an era in which Demopolis boasted separate schools for black students and white students.
Grayson remembers that integration, while not an abrupt process in Demopolis, was uniquely without incident.
“Demopolis had a reasonably smooth transition,” Grayson said. “People decided to work together. The school was kind of a rallying point.”
However, prior to the city’s full move toward integration, the football team suffered at the hands of schools which had responded more rapidly.
In 1969, Demopolis hosted Bibb County, a school it had defeated 21-0 a season earlier before integration.
“They just creamed us because they had already integrated,” Grayson said of the 1969 game in which Bibb walked away with a 34-14 victory.
Now, after witnessing more than four decades of gridiron tradition, Memorial Stadium opens its gates for high school football for what could prove the final time. And as the 2008 Tigers take the field to host Greenville tonight, they compete not only for playoff positioning, but also for the right to play under the Memorial Stadium lights at least one more time.