Each Friday night, thousands of fans across the Ozarks attend high school football games played in stadiums named for a past dignitary associated with the program.
In many cases, though, the average fan might not know who the name on the entrance to the stadium belonged to, or never met the man.
But for others, it’s a special remembrance for an old coach, a respectful nod toward a donor, or a great memory for a loved one who has passed.
“It’s hard to describe in words: It’s wonderful,” said Byron Pearson, son of the late former Kickapoo football coach and namesake of Jim Pearson Field. “I can tell people, ‘Hey, my dad’s got a field named after him.’ “
There are plenty of Tiger Stadiums and Wildcat Stadiums in the Ozarks, but a handful of stadiums in the region are named for former coaches, administrators or donors who had tremendous influence on the programs that honored them.
At his field, a few of Pearson’s old teams and players will be honored tonight as Kickapoo unveils its new turf against Rolla on Pearson Field, which is housed in W. Orville Pottenger Stadium. The Chiefs are holding a “Night of Champions,” where 24 former all-state players will be recognized, along with four outstanding teams.
Byron will be there, as he is for many of Kickapoo’s home games, this time also to watch the first home game for his daughter, Rachel, a cheerleader at Kickapoo.
“She’s just a freshman, but she asked if she could be a part of it,” said Byron Pearson, whose father passed away in 2007. “It was kind of emotional when she put it on and wore Kickapoo … for the first time. She said, ‘I wish pops (Jim Pearson) could see me in this.’ “
When Springfield Public Schools athletic director Mark Fisher came up with the idea to sell field naming rights for some of the district’s football facilities, he knew existing tags on stadiums and fields were off-limits.
“We wanted to respect that, but we had some field rights available and wanted to look at some options,” Fisher said, “And I think you’re going to see more of that popping up in high schools.”
Grocery chains Hy-Vee and Price Cutter were lead donors for the $3.5 million fundraiser to get artificial turf and new scoreboards throughout the district. The fields at Parkview and Glendale were named for the stores, but the stadiums are still named for former president John F. Kennedy at Parkview and former athletic booster H.A. Lowe at Glendale.
Legendary coaches at Monett and Camdenton were bestowed the honor: One shortly after his death and the other before his career even ended.
Monett’s Burl Fowler led the Cubs to the state championship in 1971, his fifth year after coming over from Seneca. However, the 41-year-old coach died in 1974 during the season.
Within a year, the stadium was named for Fowler.
“He was almost kinfolk; his cousin is my cousin,” said Kickapoo assistant coach Benny Lawson, who was an assistant for Fowler and later took over, winning a state championship with the Cubs in 1977. “He was very deserving of that. They’ve got a scoreboard with both of our names on it, and the years we won the titles, and it’s very special.”
At Camdenton, Bob Shore had his home field named for him in 2010 and coached in it for a year.
Shore retired after that season and was replaced by his son, Jeff.
Bob Shore has joined Jeff on the sidelines since retirement and returned to coach the junior high program in Camdenton this year.
The naming is the ultimate sign of respect to all his father accomplished, Jeff Shore said, but coaching staff members young and old still give him a hard time about it.
“My son is named Bo, and we always joke that we are going to cover up a ‘B’ on the sign and have it be Bo Shore Stadium,” Jeff joked.
“He’ll always have an office in our locker room. We put his picture over it, and we like to razz him still. But when he comes in, we all get out of his seat.”