Andy Hardin Stadium, a long-standing gathering place for athletes and their friends and families, hosted its last meet Wednesday, March 28.
Completed in 1960, Andy Hardin Stadium holds a sentimental value to many as students still run on a dirt track and play athletic competitions on a grass field. While most high schools in the area have already made the switch to all-weather tracks and turf fields, San Benito High School is one of the last schools to make the change. This sentiment was not lost on the student athletes who competed Wednesday afternoon, as well as members of the community who reflected on their time in Andy Hardin Stadium as the school will soon be starting construction on a new state-of-the-art all-weather athletic facility.
Bill Johnson, who both attended San Benito High School as a student and is currently a teacher on staff, shared his first experience in Andy Hardin Stadium telling BenitoLink, “My dad took me to football games when the stadium was located on West Street. It was moved in 1960. My neighbor's Grandfather (Less Skow) was head of maintenance and we got to go to the games at the new stadium after it moved.”
As current Athletic Director Tod Thatcher stated, "Andy Hardin Field is a special place. The stadium is the cornerstone of our athletic facilities and it is a stadium known well not only to our student-athletes but to all of our opponents who have played on the grass field or run on the dirt track. From the white fence, the tree-lined perimeter, to one of the last dirt tracks, Andy Hardin Field really makes all who visit feel like they are part of the tradition of Baler Athletics. I imagine the stadium feels the same today as it did back in the 1960's. I have spent the last 24 years of my life in that stadium and while I am thrilled about our renovation, a part of me will really miss smelling the BBQ, seeing the fans lean on the white fence, seeing the players run out from under the grandstand and walking out onto real grass."
Johnson furthered this idea when saying, “The stadium has always been the place where students gathered in the fall. They come in from rural schools from all over San Benito County. As freshmen to be at the game (football) on Friday nights allowed you to get to know all your new classmates. It was a rallying point and from there it was off to the after-game dance. So many people in the community started there as Freshmen, and the following fall knew a few more of the "ropes" as Sophomores and before you knew it you were a Senior and felt so important.”
Another former Baler who currently teaches at San Benito High School is Catalina Lemos. Lemos, who is currently the Student Activities Director for the school, said, “This facility has been a place where we gathered together to support our classmates, school and community. It has brought unity to our school and community.”
Lemos’s view of unity could be seen at Wednesdays meet as former athletes came to walk or run the alumni lap honoring all athletes who had once participated in track and field themselves before the dirt track is replaced.
Shannon Skowbo, who graduated in 2016, came to Wednesday’s event to visit with old coaches and teammates, as well as to remember her time as an athlete. “Andy Hardin was my second home in high school. Through all the early mornings, late nights, and unforgettable memories this stadium was here to host it all,” Skowbo said.
Fellow 2016 graduate Kaylie Voechting said, “I along with my teammates have a lot of memories in this stadium. Walking in today and seeing all the athletes made me tear up. I’ve failed on this track and succeeded on this track. I’m grateful for all my memories.”
Track and field is not the only high school sport and athletic event on campus to host their matches in the stadium. Football, soccer, lacrosse, powder puff, and Gifted Games athletes have all laced up their cleats or put on their spikes to compete.
Bryan Smith, who not only attended San Benito High School but is also a current P.E. teacher and the head football coach, said, “a great moment on Andy Hardin field was the 1992 MBL Championship football game where we, the Haybalers, defeated Live Oak 13-7. Everrette Sparling tipped a pass to preserve the win with less than a minute to play. All the fans rushed the field as we listened to ‘We are the Champions’. Great time!”
Annie Breger, who is currently a senior at San Benito High School and a member of the track team, will also have memories that will stay with her for all time. Breger who has competed for the Balers all four years was joined last year by her twin brother Jack. As Breger said, “It was incredible to see my brother become as passionate about something as me,” and to be able to have a, “journey we’ve got to experience together.” Part of that journey included Jack breaking the school record for the 100 meter dash with a time of 10.75 seconds this season. Breger shared when this happened she was at the finish line to cheer him on and when seeing his success, “I started crying.”
Many former athletes of the school have also come back to coach their respective sport. As Johnson said, “When I came back to Hollister as coach we had the wonderful string of three consecutive CCS Div-II titles. Great players; great coaches and great times. The 85 game against Soquel High sticks in my mind. The coaches lined the field as the game was on Thanksgiving Weekend and there were no maintenance personnel. Soquel had a D-1 QB (quarterback) that had set numerous school and section records. Few people outside Hollister gave us much of a chance. But we won and we won decisively. A great night at Andy Hardin Field.”
Athletes and coaches are not the only members of the community who have fond memories of Andy Hardin Stadium, but parents as well. “Some of my fondest memories of being in Andy Hardin Stadium were attending all of the high school football games as a student, performing as a member of color guard and as a song leader at the games. But my most fond memory was watching my son play at the last regular home football game. Knowing his dad, myself, my son and my daughter were cheering made it all the more special,” Lemos said.
Jennifer Irvin, who has had two daughters compete in Andy Hardin Stadium as well as graduate from the school, said "To me the Andy Hardin Stadium encompassed the energy of a multi-generational community. I loved stepping out on to the track, seeing my daughters on the field warming up with lifelong teammates and then sitting down in the Baler Section with parents for the ups and downs that had raised their daughters alongside mine."
As new construction on the facility is set to take place there is also optimism about the future for San Benito High School students. “I am excited that a new facility is being built. Here, new memories will be created for the future generations and I know the tradition of bringing people together will continue at the new Andy Hardin Stadium,” Lemos said.
As the dirt gets replaced with an all-weather track and the grass field with turf, students who have attended San Benito High School and/or competed in an athletic event will still hold on to their memories. As Johnson said, “The new facility will be beautiful. There will not be any more games like the one in 1965 played in the mud. The new turf will be state of the art and a great improvement. There is however, a little nostalgia when I think about the change over from real grass on dirt and synthetic turf. Friday nights in November, real grass has a different feel. Picking yourself up off the dirt with mud and grass stains had a feeling that I never got when playing on turf. The players of tomorrow will love playing in their new beautiful stadium with its turf field and they will only know that reality. But, there will be some in the stands that remember ‘the old Stadium’ and some of the fading memories of what went on there.”