By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
High school football has a new look at Perry Meridian and Lutheran.
Perry Meridian finally has its own on-campus football stadium after sharing Perry Stadium with Southport for nearly 45 years.
The stadium seats 5,000 spectators and features a press box, two concession/rest room buildings, a 400-meter track and home team locker room. Visiting teams will use a locker room inside the school. The Falcons play their historic opener Friday on Ray Skillman Family Field against Greenwood.
Perry Meridian coach Matt Henninger said he and all of his players are anxious for opening night. “They are really excited because they have ownership and have something they can finally call their own, not a field that is shared. This is Falcon Stadium, and we can finally call it home. When our kids roll through the game for that first home game, I’m sure they’ll be jacked up a lot.”
Adding to Perry Meridian’s historic season, the Falcons are in their final year in Conference Indiana, moving next season to the more centrally located Mid-State Conference.
“This was 40 years in the making and could not be done without community support,” Perry athletic director Doug Schornick said. “The spirit and excitement is tremendous, not just for football but the entire Falcon family and the community of Perry Township, meaning Southport as well.”
The renamed Cardinal Stadium at Southport no longer will feature Cardinal red and Falcon blue end zones; both will be red, and the Cardinals’ locker room has been repainted in school colors.
“I think everybody who had a part in that stadium should be given a big pat on the back; it was time and it’s a great facility,” Southport football coach Brandon Winters said. “Although they are our rival and I really want to beat them, I could not be happier for their kids who get to play home football games and for their high school to have a place they can call their own.”
Schornick expressed more enthusiasm because of tailgating before home games, impact upon the football program at Meridian Middle School and game logistics. He also said the move to the Mid-State next year could not have been done without the on-campus stadium.
The Falcons play four of their first five games at home this season, including a visit from Southport Sept. 1.
At Lutheran, the football team recently practiced for the first time on its artificial turf field, which replaced the grass one. Private donations paid for the new field and track. A new press box and concession facility were added before the 2016 season. The Saints open their season at home Friday against Indiana Crossroads Conference rival Beech Grove.
Lutheran’s football and soccer teams already have shared the field for practices. The new track was needed as there were no home track meets because the track surface was breaking up.
Grandstands for the visiting spectators will be constructed on the east side of the field, with seating for the home fans to be expanded. Improvements include a new entrance and walkway to the visitors grandstand.
Assistant principal/head football coach Dave Pasch acknowledged business, group and individual donations that funded the improvements.
“The kids are enthused and excited because of the support of the entire Lutheran family,” Pasch said. “They know we are doing everything possible to improve the facilities. They can’t wait to play their first game on the new field.”
Pasch said that the next phase includes expanding the locker room and training room facilities.
Perry Meridian and Lutheran join Roncalli, Southport, Greenwood and Center Grove with artificial fields. Ray Skillman Auto Group funded the new stadium at Center Grove last year and artificial turf at Cardinal Stadium and has naming rights to the stadium at Franklin Central.