When he looks at C.B. Speegle Stadium, Keith Sinor doesn't just see a football field that he — as the athletic director of the Oklahoma City Public Schools — is responsible for keeping in adequate condition.
He sees his old home. The field he once played on. The locker room that he walked into every day after practice.
Sinor grew up as a student-athlete at Capitol Hill High School. He knows the history of Speegle Stadium on Oklahoma City's south side and Taft Stadium to the north.
Over the last three decades, the history of the stadiums has stood strong, but the structures themselves have not.
Sinor, entering his third school year as the athletic director at the school district, has headed a $19 million project to renovate Taft and Speegle, stadiums that once served as cathedrals of high school football in Oklahoma City but have long since reached a state of disrepair.
Wednesday morning, district officials held a groundbreaking ceremony at Taft, which has been almost entirely flattened over the last few weeks, as work begins to rebuild the historic stadium. A similar ceremony is planned for Speegle in early September as the 10-month project moves past the demolition phase and into rebuilding mode.
Working with a local firm, MA+ Architectural, Sinor and the district's leadership put together a plan that would give the district's students athletic facilities comparable with those in the suburban areas, while maintaining the historical elements that are woven into the city's past.
“The first question I got every time we appeared at a public meeting was, ‘What are you doing with the Taft Wall?'” said Gary Armbruster, the principal architect for MA+.
The Taft Wall is the stadium's eastern facade, facing toward May Avenue. It's a large rock and brick wall with “Taft” written in a unique circular pattern above the ticket windows.
“To put everyone's mind at ease, we are repairing it, and making it look new, but it will remain,” Armbruster said. “Our firm also specializes in historic preservation projects, so from that aspect, this has been a lot of fun to research and see all of the events that have been held in these stadiums in the past.”
Both stadiums saw their share of legendary football games over the years, but Taft houses even more history. For years, it was Oklahoma City's stadium.
Pro football and soccer teams have played there. In the 1990s, legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson brought his team to Taft for a game against Langston.
Bob Fennimore led Oklahoma State to a 28-6 win over OU in the 1944 Bedlam game at Taft. That same year, Classen and Central played to a 6-6 tie in front of more than 18,000 fans in one of greatest games in state history. Taft was home to the All-State football game for many years.
Taft also hosted auto racing, with a dirt track circling the football field. For decades after racing left the stadium, the bleachers beyond the south end zone still were guarded by the tall, wire fencing originally installed for the racetrack.
“One of the first things we did in the design phase of this project was to identify the historical aspects of the stadiums that we wanted to maintain the integrity of,” Sinor said. “We did a lot of research with alumni and different stakeholders to make sure that the excitement about what was new would not be lost because we were destroying something that was sentimental to people on a historic level.
“We wanted to maintain the integrity and the historic value of the stadium, all the while knowing that to get the stadiums to where they needed to be, it had to virtually be a total teardown and rebuild.”
The upcoming football season won't be easy for the district's five teams left without home stadiums for the year. But the long-term benefit seems to outweigh the short-term challenges.
“We've got people trying to create a positive environment,” Northwest Classen coach Lloyd Smith said. “The tough thing this year is that the kids realize they're not going to be playing there. When you've got to go on the road for 10 weeks, it's a grind.
“But I'm hopeful that a facility like that, with a new stadium and new locker rooms, will inspire more kids in our school to come out and play football.”