WATERLOO – If football stadiums could talk, Sloane Wallace Stadium would have a Pulitzer Prize-worthy story to tell.
The final chapter of that story maybe written this summer.
Monday, the Waterloo School Board will hold a public meeting and then a vote on whether to move forward with a $140,000 demolition project of the 99-year old stadium that resides on 1115 West Fifth St.
Waterloo Schools Superintendent Jane Lindaman said the project has been in the works for years and is part of a part of a promise to Irving Elementary School parents and students to provide a bigger playground and more green space.
“When they built Irving (in 2003), we were really tight on space for a playground and parking,” Lindaman said. “At that time we didn’t have the ‘field turf’ at Memorial Stadium, so we just made it work. One of the first meetings I had when I took over seven years ago was with the Irving PTO, and they told me they had been promised a new playground.
“So, this has been part of a broader plan or at least a thought we’d like to expand,” continued Lindaman. “But at that time Sloane Wallace was being used quite a bit … and it (the demolition project and Irving expansion) was moved to the background.”
Fast forward seven years. Field turf has been installed at Memorial Stadium, the current home to East and West football, track and soccer teams, and use of Sloane Wallace has dwindled to maybe once or twice a year.
“Last year I think we had one middle school football game on it between Bunger and Carver Middle Schools,” Waterloo Schools Director of Athletics Dan Huff said. “That, I believe, is the last Waterloo Schools event that was played at Sloane Wallace.
“There is a lot of affection for the stadium, and it is sad to see it come to this, but athletically and schoolwise it is just not a viable facility anymore.”
Prior to Memorial Stadium getting field turf, the district was limited to a little more than nine or so games on its then natural turf field. There were times where preliminary sophomore games were moved to Sloane Wallace, and if the turf had received a lot of rain the marching bands were not allowed to perform, according to Huff.
Now, Huff estimates, Memorial Stadium easily hosts 200-plus events a year — from practices and games to the state band competition.
“That has been a great deal for us inside Memorial,” Huff said.
After public comments on demolition, the board is expected to take action on the project. Lindaman said if the school board approves the project the district will begin taking bids immediately, adding that the demolition could begin later this summer.
“I think there was a proposed timeline that it would be demolished yet this summer or by the fall,” Lindaman said. “We couldn’t do anything with the playground yet this year because that takes some time. But by the fall or next spring we’d hope to have a committee, including community members, put together to see what that playground would look like.
“I believe there is some desire to do something unique with that area. I think it is fair to say that should this project move forward that the new space would not only be great and right for the Irving kids, but it will also have a community flavor to it.”
Among the features suggested are a walking track and some kind of memorial honoring Sloane Wallace around the old scoreboard which will we remain on the site in its current location.
Lindaman said the school board did look at what it would cost to bring stadium up to code and viable again. But the upgrades at Memorial and potential limited usage of a renovated Sloane Wallace make demolition more desirable.
The high school team comprised of players from Columbus and West is one of the best in Iowa. And they are taking aim at a second consecutive state championship.
“It’s really about delivering for Irving. … It’s time to deliver on a playground facility for them,” Lindaman said.
Built in 1922 as part of a $1.37 million construction project that included a new West High, Sloane Wallace Stadium was the premier facility in Iowa, boasting 4,111 permanent steel seats. In 1934, it became one of the first stadiums in the Midwest too have lights for night games.
“You felt very proud to walk into this place,” former West High athletic events manager Rick Smith said in a 2011 Courier article. “People could hear the stadium for blocks around. It was one of the melting pots that you could get the community to rally around.”
To say some legends were born at Sloane Wallace Stadium would be an understatement.
Don Perkins starred at West before going on to a Ring of Fame-worthy career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Jerry Moses electrified crowds with amazing runs during East High’s 55-game win streak in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Reggie Roby and his square-toed right shoe was a property damage threat every time he connected with a football and sent it sailing out of the stadium or onto the roof of old West High.
The list of legends is lengthy.
Former Waterloo East star Mike Woodley told The Courier in 2011, “It was like a dungeon, in a way. It felt like the fans were right on top of you. I guarantee you it was intimidating for anybody coming in from out of town.”
Lindaman said the overwhelming sentiment if the demolition project moves forward is to honor the history of Sloane Wallace Stadium.
“On behalf of the board I’d like to remind the public that the board realizes the sentiment surrounding Sloane Wallace,” Lindaman said. Leadership is hard, especially when you know you are not going to please everybody. At some point in time you have to be courageous and say we are going to make the best decision with what we have in front of us.
“I know that is how I feel, too. When I hear the stories of Jerry Moses and Reggie Roby … all those stories are heart-warming to hear, and we definitely have a desire to honor history. The hard part is when there are different perspectives on what is the best usage of that land.
“The board is listening to that and they are going to try to make a decision on what is best for right now,” continued Lindaman. “In no way is that intended to discredit all the amazing memories that were made at Sloane Wallace Stadium.”