By Dave Ricci
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Way to go City of Tonawanda. You got it done and you got it done right.
Doors to the New Clinton H. Small Stadium officially opened on Aug. 30 with the Dan Durick Kick-Off soccer tournament.
As I stood at the top of the bleachers, just outside the Jason Zdrojewski Memorial Press Box, and saw the morning sun kiss off of that beautiful brand new turf field, I couldn’t help but smile.
The stadium was open, on time, and ready for action. Sure the softball diamond and practice field area behind the visiting stands are still a work in progress, and a sink was being installed in the concessions stand as the first game was underway. But the stadium was open and it was game on.
There are countless people behind the scenes who should be thanked. People who made the dream of this field become a reality. But the ones that deserve the most thanks are the people of Tonawanda who voted in favor of the capital bond project that enabled the New Clinton H.Small Stadium to be built.
The citizens who had the vision to break from the past and be daring enough to embrace the future and give their kids better resources to pursue their athletic dreams.
People who stood firm in the face of the uninformed critics who thought this was about taking money away from education and using it to build a football stadium.
Those who took the time to study the facts and learn the full story knew this was about sweeping improvements throughout the district. The more efficient, safer bus loop can get kids to class easier, and visiting sports teams in and out of the school without having to fight through a crowded hallway.
The improvements and updates in the music departments. The new roofs at the elementary schools.
Thanks go to the people who championed this project when the seeds were first planted in 2005.
The same people who stood their ground when naysayers said just repair the old stadium. The supporters saw that repairs to the original Small Stadium would be a band-aid on a broken leg. They knew it was time to move forward.
But moving forward wasn’t easy. Especially for the Small family who was understandably worried that Clint would be forgotten.
No chance that the greatest Warrior of them all could ever be forgotten. It was a delicate process to be sure as the city and school district moved forward while still trying to remember its past.
One of the great things about Tonawanda is how it holds tight to its history and respects the past.
As it should be. But we cannot be so tied to where we have been that we lose sight of where we are going.
Those who said don’t move were so wrapped up in what the original Small Stadium used to be. They were unaware that the stadium had simply outlived its use and it was time to move on. When I got wind of a new stadium at the high school project I’ll be honest, at first I wasn’t too sure about it.
I thought about my connections to the original Small Stadium. How I lived around the corner from it for years. Sitting outside on crisp fall nights listening to the sounds of football and soccer games. Thinking of the first high school game — THS girls soccer — I ever covered.
I didn’t want to let go of the past. The original Small Stadium was comfortable. It was home.
It was something you could count on in an ever-changing, sometimes crazy, world. But when I took a hard look I saw it was indeed time to move forward.
As I walked around the New Clinton H. Small Stadium those first two days and spoke with people I saw the smiles and the looks of pride on their faces. Current students couldn’t wait to go on the field. Former students had the same reaction: “Wow, wish they had this when I went here.”
Parents and administrators beamed with pride. Visiting players and coaches raved about how beautiful the field, scoreboard and bleachers were. Everything was top notch and every Warrior was a little prouder because they knew that now they had the jewel of scholastic fields.
And this field would make the rest of Western New York take them a little more seriously.
A couple of years ago I wrote that moving forward with a new venue would be the best move. That Clinton Small himself would be leading the charge to give the athletes of Tonawanda the best possible facilities to pursue their athletic dreams.
And that’s what they have.
We are truly in a golden age of Tonawanda High School athletics. Every sport is on the rise in one way or another. Most teams are winning titles on a consistent basis. Even the handful of teams that haven’t won a title are experiencing growth in interest and are pointed in the right direction.
Better facilities will promote greater overall pride in all THS students as they strive for success in academics, athletics and the arts.
The football shaped memorial stone honoring Clint Small and the ticket booth are both being moved to the new stadium so that the past can have its place, as the Warriors proudly march into the future.
On Sept.13, prior to the varsity football team’s home opener, Warriors of all generations will gather for the official ribbon cutting ceremony. Warriors who are no longer with us — everyone from Clinton Small to Chris “Mr. Tonawanda” Slauson — will be looking on with pride.
As Warriors walk through those gates they won’t just be heading to a new field. They will be walking towards a brighter future.
You always hear the expression kids come first. In this case the kids of Tonawanda were indeed put first.
Well done, Tonawanda. Well done.
Find reporter Dave Ricci on Twitter @davearicci.Find reporter Dave Ricci on Twitter @davearicci.