If you haven’t seen Barnitz Stadium lately, you’re in for a surprise Friday night when the renovated home field of the Middies makes its debut to the community, said school officials and those responsible for the facelift to the 64-year-old facility on South Main Street.
Built in 1950 — and at the time considered one of the finest high school stadiums in the state — Barnitz hasn’t received many upgrades over the years, except for an occasional coat of paint.
George Long, the district’s business manager, called the stadium “the gray battleship.”
Now it’s more like a purple cruise liner.
During the last two years, fueled by private funds, more than $1.7 million has been spent on renovations to the exterior and interior. About the only remaining original pieces of Barnitz Stadium are the stands that hold close to 10,000, and even those — and about everything else — have been painted. If you like the color purple, you’ll feel right at home at Barnitz.
While Long knows the cosmetic changes of the stadium are drawing the most accolades, he said it’s the subtle improvements that mean the most. He said all the lights in the parking lots, and the more energy-efficient lighting under the stands, makes the area a lot safer, and he said some of the safety hazards have been removed.
Workers all summer have been completing renovations on the stadium, and the work has continued this week. On Wednesday, electricians were replacing outlets, others were sweeping debris, and one man was washing all the bleachers.
The new Barnitz Stadium makes its debut Friday when Middletown hosts Pickerington Central, 1-0, at 7:30 p.m. The Middies, under first-year Coach Wells, opened their season with a loss to Dayton Thurgood Marshall last week.
Earlier this week, the community members who were responsible for the renovations toured the stadium, and every one left impressed. They said they couldn’t remember a time when Barnitz Stadium looked better.
Tom Wiley, a longtime volunteer who spearheaded the fund-raising effort, said while discussing the improvements: “I’m not gonna cry, but I have the right to.”
When the renovation plans were only a dream, Wiley said he was told the work couldn’t be completed. There were too many hurdles, the group was told. But after the group raised several hundred dollars, community groups backed the project with their checkbooks. Eventually, more work will be done at Barnitz, including an 11,000-square-foot strength and agility center that will be built just northwest of the stadium; a paved parking lot; and a fourth locker room to make the stadium more conducive to hosting football and soccer tournaments.
MHS Athletic Director Gary Lebo said he’s in discussions with Skyline Chili about Barnitz hosting a doubleheader next season.
Wiley said he sees a time in the near future when sports tournaments, marching band competitions and summer fireworks are held at the stadium. T. Duane Gordon, executive director of the Middletown Community Foundation, said the versatility of the stadium was a major reason the foundation made a $500,000 donation, the largest in its history, to the project.
Long called Barnitz “a great focal point” in the community.
Later, Wiley called the stadium “right at the top” of other Ohio high school facilities.
“This is an important thing for the entire community,” he said. “Now the players push their chests out just the way they used to.”
Middie football coach Chris Wells, a MHS graduate, called it “the best around.”
While Sam Ison, the district superintendent, understands buildings alone won’t drive the district’s turnaround, he said upgrades “facilitate more pride,” and people are “attracted” to sports stadiums.
During the football season last year, the Middletown School Board of Education officially changed the name of the field at Barnitz Stadium to Cris Carter Field to honor the former Middie and 2013 inductee of the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Long said many improvements were made to the visitors’ side of the stadium, what he called the “ugly step-child.” Before the renovations, the district stored its lawn equipment under the stands, in plain sight. Now those potential safety hazards have been moved, and the visitors’ locker room has been expanded and drinking fountains have been added. There’s also an area for the Middie marching band to park and unload its equipment trailer and visiting teams can pull their buses behind the stadium in a secured, fenced-in area.
“We wanted to create a new image,” Long said.
He took a few steps, then added: “We were successful.”
Some of the other improvements include:
- New lights in the parking lot.
- Trees, shrubs and other landscaping upgrades funded by the Miriam G. Knoll Charitable Foundation.
- Restrooms with new stalls.
- Drinking fountains.
- Offices for offensive and defensive coaches.
- Laundry room.
- New lockers.