Central football coach Kip Shaw said his program could receive a tremendous morale boost Friday.
The Braves will open their new football stadium when Mannford visits for a 7 p.m. kickoff. For the first time in 115 years of Central football, the city’s oldest high school will have a home venue to call its own.
“It means we don’t have to go on the bus every week to play a game,” Shaw said. “It’s something that can give us school pride, something to be excited about. Many of the alumni are reaching out to me, and a lot of people are so excited about Friday.”
It’s also homecoming as the Braves (3-2) try to snap a two-game losing streak and get back into the running for a District 3A-4 postseason berth. Mannford is 0-5.
Dr. Deborah Gist, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, will be part of a 4 p.m. Friday ribbon-cutting ceremony. She’ll be joined by Mick Wilson, TPS director of athletics; Jennettie Marshall, TPS District 3 board member; Jason Gilley, Central principal; Nate Goodman, Central athletic director, and others.
The opening was postponed from two weeks ago to allow workmen time to make final modifications on the $4 million facility, which has a seating capacity of 1,000 on the home side and 500 on the visitor’s side.
Born as Tulsa High School in 1906, Central moved from its iconic former downtown location, 202 E. Sixth St. (now headquarters for Public Service Co. of Oklahoma) in the fall of 1976 to the current site at 3101 W. Edison Ave.
According to Gilley, many at the time believed the school was to receive land for a football stadium at the new location.
“They received the land, but they never got the stadium,” Gilley said. “So, we’re (45) years later and they’re finally receiving the football stadium. It’s exciting for the Central community and long overdue.”
Since 2013, the Braves have used Webster’s Milton Stadium for hosting home games. Before that, it was Booker T. Washington’s S.E. Williams Stadium.
“I think it’s a real blessing (having the new stadium),” senior receiver/defensive back Ty’ionn Cox said. “Instead of having to travel a lot for our home games, we can just come on out back.”
The stadium sits where the old practice field ran along the north side of campus, ringed by a six-lane running track. It is not more than the distance of a long field goal behind the 8-year-old Central Athletic Complex, which houses coaches’ offices, locker rooms and weight-lifting equipment.
The varsity Braves will move into locker rooms in the stadium, clearing space for junior high athletes in the CAC.
Central officials are thanking longtime stadium advocates Keith Miller and Deborah Gatewood, who both died in the past year, and the many TPS patrons who supported the $415 million 2015 bond proposal. Among many other impressive TPS projects, it made possible Will Rogers’ new football stadium (opened last September), a remodel of the historic Carver Middle School stadium and fabulous new gymnasiums at McLain High and East Central (due to open in August 2022).
Keith Miller, a former NAIA football All-American at Northeastern State, played in the NFL and Canadian Football League and spent most of his adult life volunteering in North Tulsa and mentoring young men. He coached youth athletes at Carver and the North Mabee Boys and Girls Club and helped organize 100 Black Men of Tulsa Inc.
“He was passionate about having a stadium for Central,” said his son, Keith Miller Jr., who arrived from his Houston home to attend Friday’s game. “He’d call me and be so excited. He’d say, ‘We’re getting that stadium, we’re getting that stadium.’ That was his everything.”
Crossland Construction was general contractor for the new facility, and Reed Architecture and Interiors supplied the design. Features include electronic scoreboard and play clocks, a new lighting and sound system, a 550-square-foot press box atop the home grandstand and 5,000-square–foot combination building for ticket booth, concession stand, restrooms and two locker rooms for 40 players each.
Goodman said a committee will be formed to spearhead the process of naming the stadium.
These days, Eli Brown III coaches basketball at B.T. Washington, his high school alma mater. But he also has an affinity for Central. He grew up in the neighborhood behind Gilcrease Hills Shopping Center and coached the Braves in basketball for 10 seasons, guiding them to a Class 4A state title in 2015.
“When I was 6 or 7, we would ride our bikes over to Central and play on the track. That would have been around 1986 or 1987 and it’s the first time I remember hearing talk of building a stadium. But it never came to fruition,” he said.
“The biggest hindrance was that the community adjacent to the field didn’t want a stadium because of the noise, but the students who came through Central and the community members who supported Central, they’ve always wanted a stadium. Now those kids and coaches are getting their own stadium and it’s very exciting. I can’t wait to go to the first game.”
“It’s something that can give us school pride, something to be excited about."