The cars arrive early to line up around the Little Rose Bowl on a Friday night in West Branch. Fans sit in pickup trucks, on lawn chairs and huddled together in the stands under blankets.
School kids play in the green spaces, the marching band provides the soundtrack, and the varsity team walks down Oliphant Street with a familiar clicking of cleats over the white bear paws painted on the pavement.
“Pure Americana,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said. “It’s what Iowa football is all about. It is Friday Night Lights in Iowa.
“This stadium is what football in Iowa is all about: community. That’s why the field is so special.”
MaxPreps.com, a national prep sports website, named the Little Rose Bowl in West Branch as one of “10 more high school football stadiums to see before you die.”
The site originally did its first list of 10 fields Aug. 7, but found another 10 it wanted to showcase. The Little Rose Bowl is the only field in Iowa on either list.
It shares a spot on the list with an $84 million stadium in Texas, a field in Lahaina, Hawaii, with a view of the ocean, and the school where Paul Brown played and coached.
“Some of the other stadiums make ours look pale in comparison,” Pedersen said. “But you talk about environment, that’s why they picked us.”
The field was created nearly a century ago, dug out of the hillside to create a natural bowl on three sides.
Pedersen, in his 31st season coaching at West Branch, played on the field back when the high school was located just east of the field. It burned down in December 1978.
A new field was built with the new high school on the edge of town, but nobody wanted to give up the tradition of the Little Rose Bowl.
Pedersen knows the facility isn’t as flashy as some of the other monoliths on the list. The lights are “1930s vintage,” Pedersen said, and there aren’t regular restrooms.
But the facility contains several donated items including the goal posts, flag pole, scoreboard and more.
“These are things donated by and for people who are no longer with us physically,” Pedersen said. “But they are still a huge part of our program. That’s the epitome of what our football field is about.”
The Bears close the 2012 season on the road tonight in Eldon. Getting another chance to showcase the field will depend on West Branch advancing in the playoffs.