May 13, 2011 9:13:00 AM
SCOOBA -- Pardon Buddy Stephens if he''s a little excited about this weekend.
When 19 area high schools conclude their spring practices at a three-day jamboree on the East Mississippi Community College campus in Scooba, it will mark the official opening of new Sullivan-Windham Field. And while the $4.7 million, 5,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium is ready to open, Stephens remembers what the west side of campus looked like before.
"It''s something that not many coaches on any level that get to see it go from a pine tree stand to now, a brand new turf field stadium with state-of-the-art scoreboard, lights," Stephens said. "I know how special it''s been for me, to be a part of it.
"What a thrill it is, what an honor it is to be a part of that. I''ll forever remember and be very proud to be a part of."
That sentiment extends beyond Stephens.
"We''re very excited to be able to start using the facility," EMCC Athletic Director Mickey Stokes said. "It was badly needed and has been for several years. We''re extremely proud to have it.
"Everyone that is a part of the EMCC family has a sense of pride in our accomplishments here and that sense of pride has just continued to grow with our progress."
The new stadium was needed on several levels. The original Sullivan-Windham Field, which opened in 1948, sat just 1,000-1,500 spectators. The Lions, who have made the MACJC state playoffs all three seasons under Stephens'' leadership, packed the place in capturing the 2009 state championship.
That success helped spur the push for the new stadium.
"They had talked about it before we had gotten there," Stephens said about the desire for a new home. "They were either going to do something with the current stadium that we had, or try to build a new one, and I think they had a master plan to build one across campus.
"(EMCC president) Dr. (Rick) Young and the board of trustees really kicked into overdrive after we had our first playoff season and then we had the state championship, and I really think that season kind of kicked into a, ''Hey, we need this. We''re going in a direction that we''ve never gone before.'' I really think they felt like this was something we needed to take it to the next level in competing not just for state championships, but national championships."
To also get to that next level, EMCC needed an improvement in facilities for recruiting purposes. The college had already made those improvements in other areas, such as the softball field and refurbished Gerald Poole Field for the baseball program. Now, the Lions have the envy of the league, if not the country, when it comes to football, too.
"Dr. Young has been very supportive of upgrading our facilities to help not only in competition but also recruiting," Stokes said. "A lot of high schools have great stadiums and we want them when they get here to have as good or better places to play.
"We had kind of fallen behind, but now we''ve not only caught up, but we''re now in the upper level facility-wise."
That improvement has also definitely caught Stephens'' attention, too.
"It puts us up there with every community college, not only the state, but the country," he said. "We''ve had people come in that travel all across the country and tell us that this is as nice a facility as they''ve seen. It''s not something that you just throw together. As far as junior colleges and community colleges go, we''ve got a stadium that ranks right up there with anybody in the country.
"As a recruiting tool, it''s an unbelievable. Our campus as a whole, and now when you stick this athletic complex that Dr. Young has given us, you can go out and recruit anybody from anywhere at any time. That''s something as a head coach, or as an assistant even, all you really ask for is a level playing field when you go out and recruit. And I''d say we''ve passed by that level playing field, we''re ahead of a lot of people. It puts us up, as far as our facilities go, it puts us ahead of a lot of people."
Before the Lions can get ahead, they''ve first had to wait. With all the excitement over the new Sullivan-Windham Field, EMCC has had to be patient as all the details are finished up in the construction process. But that time is now.
"It''s something we''ve been looking forward too for so long, I think the hardest part is all the little things at the end," Stephens said. "You can see some of the big things move; you can see them throw down the field, throw up the stands or the lights. They get the press box done. Now it''s down to all the little things.
"We''re ready to go. We''ve been talking about it for a while, and we''re ready to get in it. It''s time now."
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