SOUTHINGTON - When Chalker athletic director Terry Kelly played on the earliest football teams in Southington history in the mid- to late-1960s, the Wildcats didn't have a field.
Kelly and his teammates played their home games at Newton Falls his entire high school career.
Therefore, he understands how the current crop of Chalker Wildcats are feeling going into this season, where for the first time in three years, they host games in Southington - not Windham like in 2012. The athletic department unveiled the new football stadium on Saturday evening with a "Meet the Team" night that included the team's first full-contact practice.
"Now, to have a full-blown football stadium is unbelievable for our community," Kelly said. "It's emotional for a lot of us guys that have come before, but it's a fantastic thing to be able to walk out there on that field and know that we can start having home games again."
The school district upgraded the entire stadium, from the field to the locker rooms.
Instead of wooden bleachers for spectators, the stadium now has stands for both the home and away sides, and behind the home stands, the blockhouse has been completely renovated. Now there's a visiting locker room and men's and women's public restrooms, which didn't exist in the old stadium.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Two Chalker players go through blocking drills under the watchful eye of coach Ryan Slone, right, during the Wildcats’ Meet The Team night at their newly remodeled football complex on Saturday night.
As to the field itself, the field was gutted to put a drainage system in place, leveled and then resodded. Circling the field is an all-weather track, an upgrade from the cinder track that used to enclose the field.
The Wildcats wanted to move back to the stadium last season, but they decided to delay usage until this year, and it seems everyone involved with the football team is happy with the results.
"We had to wait another whole year, and it's worth it," Kelly said. "It's smoothed out, there's not a hole out there. We had three-and-a-half inches of rain a few weeks ago. We could have played one hour after that rain went through and not picked up one piece of mud - that's how dry that field was."
The Wildcats' home opener on Sept. 13 against Waterloo will be a special occasion for the kids, as no player has played in Southington during his varsity career. Starting quarterback Austin Casper said that the team just wants an opportunity for the community to watch it play.
"It's really nice for the community to be able to come out and support us, especially," starting quarterback Austin Casper said. "Playing in front of them is the most important thing to us."
Entering his third season in charge of the program, Ryan Slone also hasn't coached a home game in Southington, but he said he and his coaching staff must try and curb the excitement about that first home game, as the Wildcats play their first two games on the road.
In order for the team to meet its goals, he's trying to get his players to focus on the Jackson-Milton Blue Jays, Chalker's opponents in Week 1.
"It's a little unfortunate just because people are looking forward to Week 3, but our concentration has to be on Jackson-Milton," Slone said. "As coaches, we have to make sure these kids are concentrating on Jackson-Milton and only Jackson-Milton."
The players seem to have a new sense of pride, though, and even if they must put the excitement and jitters of playing in front of a home crowd aside for a couple of weeks, it's obvious they are itching to get that long-awaited opportunity.
"That's been our vibe through practice that we're playing on our home field now," fullback Brendan Baugher said. "We got to defend hometown. This is our house."