State

MJC stadium face-lift sought

Blue paint peels off rotting wood. The plastic seats, faded and weatherbeaten, almost beg for a blanket. The restrooms? Well, don't ask.

Modesto Junior College Stadium, largely unchanged for decades, sits like a dowager, its better days behind it.

"If you were that old," football coach Sam Young says, "you wouldn't be holding up so good either."

To its credit, MJC has acknowledged the broken-down condition of the area's most tradition-steeped sports venue. The stadium that has witnessed world records, football championships, graduations and countless other events will undergo a major face-lift. Plans call for a full renovation, with a two-tiered press box, VIP suites, new scoreboard, public address system and upgraded concession stands, restrooms, lights and synthetic turf.

One small obstacle: The university needs more than $4 million to do the job.

"We know it's not a good time for a project like this," MJC President Richard Rose admitted in reference to the wayward economy. "But it is really needed."

The fund drive, titled the Victory Campaign, hasn't found major traction since its beginning a year ago. Curiously, MJC embarked on the project while the Coca-Cola Modesto Relays — the stadium's most famous tenant for 67 years — bolted for Sacramento.

Why now?

School officials point to timing, now that the nearby auditorium is completed, along with a simple fact — the facility cries out for attention. They used grant money to install a new Atlas track, replacing the 27-year-old Chevron 400 surface, but it saw only one Relays. No help is forthcoming from Measure E, the $326.1 million bond proposition passed by Yosemite Community College District voters in 2004.

"We won't get any state dollars or a bond for athletics for the next 20 years," Rose said. "We thought, 'Why not a fund drive for the stadium?' Very little has been done there for a long time."

MJC has played football at the Tully Road location since the 1920s. The stadium was built piecemeal over the years, finding money and manpower momentum in the '30s via the Works Progress Administration. The press box was constructed during the '40s, and the existing seats were installed more than 30 years ago.

"We've kind of fallen behind," said Jack Albiani, MJC's track and field coach from 1969 to 1997, in a video program promoting the Victory Campaign. "The old girl is showing her age."

The "old girl" also has watched 31 world records, an MJC football team which finished the 1980 season with an unbeaten record and a No. 1 national rating, and, since 1993, the Graffiti Bowl. Its clay track was termed one of the fastest in the world before it was replaced in 1980.

The impetus for the project came from Rose, athletic director Bill Kaiser and Gigi Sherriffe, major gift officer for the Modesto Junior College Foundation. At first, Kaiser hoped only for a new scoreboard.

"It became apparent that a lot of things, such as the press box and the lights and everything else had not had much attention," Rose said. "It evolved into the stadium."

Sherriffe envisions a facility that not only will service MJC's more than 20,000 students and 400 student athletes, but also the community. She feels a big-ticket fund drive could become the vehicle to bring people closer to MJC.

"It will be accessible to everyone and people will get another 80 years of longevity. This is long overdue," she said. "When I came into the press box during a football game and looked around, I asked, 'Can I make this my project?' "

Finishing the project, however, will require more than just energy and ambition. Sooner or later, major donors must step forward. All options will be considered, including the sale of naming rights.

So far, the only prominent donation has come from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who've erected scoreboards at several sports venues in the area. They've earmarked $150,000 for MJC's new scoreboard/videoboard, which is scheduled to be ready for kickoff this season.

"All our kids will play there, so this is just a part of giving back," said Billy Powell, the IBEW business manager. "Obviously we're promoting ourselves, but maybe through the renovation we can get the Relays back or help the college overall."

Rose says the project is open-ended, meaning the phases will be addressed by priority. After the scoreboard, next on the list are the lights, which will be installed this winter. The press box and all-weather turf remain years off.

The goal, however, has been set — restoring a bit of old Modesto.

"I probably have eight more years on the job," Kaiser said. "If I can walk out of here saying we got this done, I'll be happy."

Bee sports writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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