When DeSales High School opened 60 years ago, school officials chose the nickname Colts for a couple different reasons.
For starters, the South End school is located a few furlongs down the road from Churchill Downs. In addition, the equine moniker goes well with the colors of the Carmelites, the religious order that founded the all-boys Catholic school and known for its brown robes.
However, Mustangs might have been a more appropriate nickname for the school’s varsity football team, as throughout the school’s existence the team has roamed the city to play its home football games. In recent years, nearby schools such as Fairdale, Southern and Iroquois have served as DeSales’ home field. So has Manual Stadium, among other places. Coach Harold Davis, who also played for the school, remembered hosting Doss out at Atherton in the early 1980s.
MORE COVERAGE | Photo gallery of new stadium
Life for a DeSales football player always meant taking the bus, either to road or home games. The team would meet at the school, get ready in its locker room and then hit the road.
“It wasn’t very good because we always had to go,” said Mitch Sirohman, a senior running back. “We could never just stay here.”
That all changes this Friday as the Colts will kick off the season with their first on-campus home game at Paul B. Cox Stadium, an all-turf venue the school will use for its football, soccer and baseball games. The field includes 2,850 seats for football, but the interest is so big that school officials anticipate the game against Fairdale could attract around 4,500.
Davis admitted that as the first home game approaches, and especially on game day, it may be a challenge to keep the team focused. However, he hasn’t seen anything yet that would concern him.
“We have a nice place to practice on now, but everything else has kind of been the usual,” said Davis, whose team started practicing on the field last month.
MORE COVERAGE | Previewing the 2016 DeSales Colts
The stadium also is the first of its kind in the Louisville area, although it was patterned after a similar complex at Lexington Catholic. In all, the project will cost about $5 million, athletic director Don Bowers said, with the money coming through private donations. That also includes the purchasing of five neighboring houses and the installation of a Bermuda grass practice field adjacent to the stadium.
In some ways, the complex is already paying off. Thanks to the turf, the Colts football team has been able to practice rain or shine.
“In the past, we’d always have that doubt whether we’d be able to practice or not,” said senior Alec Brothers. “But now we just know we’re going to be out there, so we can get our mind-set right and have a good practice.”
Many alumni and school officials thought an on-campus stadium would never be a reality for the small school, which is nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood a couple blocks east of Iroquois Park. But that changed when Doug Strothman, the school’s president, came up with a plan to build a stadium a couple of years ago.
They broke ground on the construction project last November. That meant the school’s baseball team, which was able to use the school grounds for its home games in the past, had to spend a season on the road while workers put together the new digs. After a rough start, the team made it to the Sixth Region championship for the second straight year.
T.J. Cataldo, the Colts baseball coach, said the long-term prospects of such a facility were worth the inconvenience.
“This is great for the entire school community,” he said.
Despite not having all the accommodations of other schools – even ones of similar size – the Colts have been one of the area’s more successful all-around athletic programs in recent years. The football team, which advanced to the Class 2A semifinals last season, is just a year removed from back-to-back state titles, and two years ago the Colts were the only area school that had its football, baseball, basketball and soccer teams reach regional finals.
Aaron Gottbrath, the school’s soccer coach, sees the new stadium as an asset not just for the school but for the South End as well in that it opens the opportunity for South End schools to play regional games closer to home. The field meets KHSAA requirements for hosting regional and state tournament games.
“We’re hoping that it’s not just big for us but it’s big for the whole area,” said Gottbrath, whose team plays its first game on the field Monday against North Bullitt. “And we can stay within the neighborhood to play the neighborhood schools.”
While the hope is that the facility will help the sports teams maintain or even improve their competitiveness, school officials added that it won’t take away from the school’s mission.
Even with the attention the stadium has received, Gottbrath, who also serves as the school’s dean of studies, said the school doesn’t want to stray from being a small, all-boys school. The school’s enrollment is expected to be up slightly this year, from 325 to about 340. That bump is thanks to 101 freshmen enrolling for this year, Bowers said, compared to just 63 students in the senior class.
“We want the experience here to be personal,” Gottbrath said. “We want every student to feel like they have a place. We want our teachers to know every student, which is something I don’t feel like very many schools around the city can offer. It’s a very personal experience here.”
Bowers said the complex could open opportunities for other sports. School officials are considering adding running lanes around the grass practice field that would enable the track team to at least practice on campus.
In addition, Bowers said the Colts will gauge interest among students for a lacrosse team this fall and that a junior varsity team could take the field in the 2017-18 school year.
“We would love to be able to bring all of our teams on campus,” he said.