Strawberry Stadium to host 74th Homecoming

Strawberry Stadium has long been an iconic symbol of Lion pride on Southeastern’s campus. After McGehee Hall, it is the second oldest building on campus and this year it will host its 74th Homecoming game on Nov. 5, 2011.

Strawberry Stadium was built in 1937, during the Depression era, and was paid for with public funds. The construction was commissioned by then Louisiana Governor Richard Webster Leche. Adamant that the building should be completed in time for the opening of the 1937 football season, Leche reportedly even went so far as to pull construction workers from other government projects in the area to help with the work. Additionally, he even personally broke ground on the building on May 12, 1937, two weeks before the State Board of Education approved the funding for the project. Construction was completed in a speedy 16-week period and by Sept. 17, 1937 the stadium was finished.

Early on in the construction, it was planned for the stadium to be named after Leche, but instead it was decided it would be named after the strawberry farmers of Hammond. In later years, the football field itself was named Eldridge Carroll Field, after a major Southeastern supporter.

“Just the name of it I think is interesting,” said Larry Hymel, Alumni Athletic Coordinator for the Alumni Association. “With the history of Hammond and strawberries and everything, just the fact that it’s called Strawberry Stadium, I think it’s a unique name in itself.”

Hymel, who attended Southeastern, worked as the sports editor for The Lion’s Roar and served as Sports Information Director for 28 years, has devoted much of his life to the university and particularly to the stadium.

“I spent most of my life there,” said Hymel. “Even when I was in grade school and high school I sold refreshments at Southeastern football games and of course I started at Southeastern and then was Sports Information Director for all that time. It’s just a big part of my life, for as long as I can remember.”

Leche had an in-depth, multi-purpose plan in mind for the building, which originally contained much more than just a football field. The area collectively known as Strawberry Stadium is actually comprised of two conjoined buildings. The east stadium building once held a cafeteria, a post office, a social room, which was much like the current student union, and dormitories. The west stadium building held training facilities, athletic offices and dorms for the football players.

The year 1937 marked the birth of a university icon. This was briefly interrupted in 1943-45, when the football seasons were cancelled because of World War II. Later, during a time of financial turmoil in the 80s, the Lions football team was disbanded due to budget issues. This time, however, the gap went on for 18 years.

In 2003, football finally returned to Southeastern. Renovations were also started at this time to install SprinTurf, a synthetic turf, to the field. In 2008, the stadium became the structure that we know today. The parking garage was added, along with a press box, suites and club seating.

“It’s one of the long time facilities on campus, with a few slight renovations,” said Hymel. “It was built in the late 1930s and just being a part of the total physical structure of the campus and located right in the middle of it makes it meaningful, and of course the improvements they’ve made on it since then. They’ve just made it bigger and better, so to speak.”

Hymel also spoke of the favorable conditions that the setup of the stadium lends to the fans.

“I think it’s one of the best stadiums to watch football because you’re so close to the action and yet you’re still at a level where you can see pretty good. I just think the uniqueness of the name and the comfort of the stadium and the proximity to the action all makes it a good football venue.”

Along with Strawberry Stadium, homecoming has been a long-standing tradition on Southeastern’s campus. Even in the years without football, Homecoming still took place, with the king and queen of each year being crowned during a Lions basketball game. With the 2011 Homecoming quickly approaching, the 7,408 seat stadium will soon be filled with Lions fans eager to learn the names of the newest king and queen. A myriad of other homecoming events will also be taking place from October 31 through November 5, with the homecoming game against Sam Houston State taking place on November 5. For a full schedule of these events, go to www.selu.edu/homecoming.