BURNABY — For over a half century, it’s been the topic of whispers, rumours and maybes.
On Tuesday, however, generations of fiction turned to fact.
Simon Fraser’s historic Terry Fox Field is finally going to become the true heart-and-soul hub of the university’s Burnaby Mountain campus after a groundbreaking ceremony signalled the official beginning of a $20-million covered grandstand stadium project which is being touted for completion in August of 2020.
The details of the project, delayed on multiple occasions due to by layers of unforseen complexity, had been public for months:
*Seating for 1,800-plus, the majority of which will be covered.
*Accessible concourse, seating and washroom facilities.
*Broadcast and media facilities, as well as VIP and sponsor boxes.
Yet on a day filled with brilliant sunshine and blues skies, the kind of day which the athletic program’s late, great founder Lorne Davies would have likely referred to as a day in which Clan athletics could see into forever, all of those whispers, rumours and maybes were laid to rest.
“It’s a game-changer and we’re so excited,” said Simon Fraser athletic director Theresa Hanson. “It’s been a lot of heavy lifting by our president (Andrew Petter), our student society and all of the different departments on campus.
“It has been talked about forever,” Hanson continued. “The 1970s, the 80’s, the 90’s. Everyone was like ‘We have to see it to believe it’ and you know what? Now we can believe it. Now it’s happening.”
CLAN AD HANSON CALLS IT “…THE START OF A NEW ERA”
Glen Orris doesn’t want to give away his age (69 or 70), but he informs that he was all of 17 when he arrived on the fledgling campus to join the school’s second-ever football team back in the summer of 1966.
“Even then, Lorne Davies and the coaches talked about a stadium,” smiled Orris. “We were told we were going to have a stadium, but that it was just something that we would have to wait for. The way the whole university was built (at the bottom of Burnaby Mountain) and trucked up here, we just assumed that the stadium would be dealt with the same way, and that it was just a few more years down the road.”
Instead, the years became decades and the probability of a stadium the stuff of myths.
Entire generations of fans tested their grit alongside the student-athletes competing in football, soccer and track, huddled on the grass berm to brave the winds, the rain, the bitter cold and a fast-rolling fog as thick as pea soup.
Yet with all of that, was it just folly to dream of the creature comforts of a covered stadium grandstand?
Your trusted agent, in fact, reported back in 1991 that SFU had sought provincial, municipal and private funds to construct a 2,000-seat fully-domed field house for football and soccer, a project SFU said came with a $7-million price tag. Like all the rest, it never got past the artist’s renditions.
And while Clan football has spent much of its time playing off campus with covered seating at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium, the recent move to bring its games back up the hill to better engage the campus community was the surest sign that the heart of the project had never completely stopped beating.
Yet ask the coaches who have enjoyed extended runs with Clan varsity teams, and the part about the folklore is not far off base.
“It was more like you were talking about something like the Sasquatch,” remarked Clan head men’s soccer coach Clint Schneider, who arrived here in 2008 as an assistant to current FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch. “It was more whispers and myths, legends about how we were going to have a stadium here. Now it’s reality.”
Hanson applauded the school’s vision, and the efforts of the Simon Fraser Student Society, which is contributing $10 million to the project, one which will also service the needs of the school’s recreation programs, as well as play host to a number of other non-athletic events each school year.
She also felt that the stadium project, in concert with so many other initiatives currently underway atop the hill, signal “a new era” at Simon Fraser.
“There is so much construction going on and it’s going to transform our campus for the better, for years to come,” said Hanson, who assumed her AD role back in December of 2015. “It’s everything from the stadium, to new residences, to the new student union, which is something we’ve never had before.”
FOOTBALL, SOCCER, TRACK AND THE 2019 IMPACT
For those SFU varsity programs whose seasons involve training and playing at Terry Fox Field, there is delight in the fact that short-term sacrifice will be rewarded with massive upside potential for their sports, their athletes and their fan bases.
“I asked Theresa when I was going through the interview process ‘Do we want a football program here at SFU, or do we want a competitive football program at SFU?” recalled Thomas Ford, the Clan’s reigning GNAC Coach of the Year, “because they’re not the same thing.
“So one of the things she talked about was the stadium project and some of the upgrades to the Lorne Davies Complex,” Ford continued, “and it’s a big part of the reason I took the opportunity here at Simon Fraser.”
You did not have to be any kind of an expert to know that while the Clan’s fan base and its alumni have been very loyal, that the program’s game-day setting at Fox Field has been very challenging for its fans.
“To our football program, the stadium project means the world because now we can truly be front-row-centre in front of our fans, our students and our families” continued Ford. “We’ve always had a home field, but there was nowhere to sit and that had to deter some people from coming to our games.
“Now, I think that the thing which used to deter them will be the thing that now attracts them. And not just for the SFU community. Now, the whole Lower Mainland community can sit and watch a collegiate football game at the NCAA level, right here in our state-of-the-art facility.”
SFU’s 2019 season?
Clan athletics confirmed with Varsity Letters that all four of its home GNAC games this season will be played at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium.
Ford will take that trade-off any day.
In fact he’s already framing it as a positive.
“We’ll be travelling for 10 weeks in a row,” he said of the 2019 campaign, “but for us, I look at it as a way for us to actually get our focus. We’re going to be road warriors the entire season. It’ll deter things a little, not being able to play in the friendly confines of Fox Field, but it’s also an opportunity for us to get outside of SFU and for more people to see first-hand what we’re doing. Then, when we open in 2020, the stands will be packed.”
Men’s head soccer coach Schneider, whose team held the No. 1 overall ranking in all of NCAA Div. 2 for much of last season, was especially happy that the program’s supporters would gain some much-needed creature comforts for all of the loyalty they have shown.
“The majority of our games are played in the rain, and it’s cold,” said Schneider. “There have always been the things that we have been able to control, and that’s making sure we put a great product on the field. Now, we have an environment where people can come and watch us, and stay warm and dry. Now, we want to play in front of 1,800 people.”
Simon Fraser athletics officials said Tuesday that the men’s and women’s soccer programs will play all of their home games on Terry Fox Field through the duration of stadium construction.
The Clan’s track and field program, according to its head coach and former Olympian Brit Townsend, will have facilities rivalling the sport’s best programs.
“I think we’re bringing ourselves up with the top schools anywhere,” said Townsend. “It’s going to bring us into the future, and it’s much-needed, having a permanent stadium. The whole project, from the covered stands to the new change rooms to the weight rooms and other facilities is giving us a better chance to showcase our athletes.”
Townsend also hoped the covered grandstand would allow fans of the sport and of the Clan to better enjoy the entire multi-event atmosphere that comes with a nice seat, perhaps a pair of binoculars, and a full card of track and field events.
“Maybe we’ll host more meets,” Townsend added, “and maybe we’ll host a big high school invitational. Things like that. It’s an opportunity to bring the entire (track) community in here to enjoy what’s happening up here.”
With a completion date of August, 2020, track and field will be the most affected by the stadium project with two full outdoor seasons away from Fox Field.
Townsend confirmed that the home portions of the 2019 outdoor campaign, including the April 7 Emilie Mondor Memorial Invitational, would be held at South Surrey Athletic Park.
HISTORIC DAY FOR CLAN SPORTS
Construction had originally been slated for January, thus putting the 18-month project on line for a July 2020 opening.
Now, almost three months behind that original start date, fingers are being crossed that the August 2020 deadline can be met for the start of the fall sports season. Especially for football.
“We have our first home game (of 2020) slated for Week 2 (Sept. 12 vs. Texas’ Tarleton State), so we want to have the (stadium) complete for training camp in August,” Ford said. “That way we’ll be good to go for our scrimmage and good to go for our first home game.”
Hanson seemed to welcome the challenge of a very tight timeline.
“They have said all along that it’s 18 months,” the Clan boss said. “We’re just starting so we’re probably a couple of months behind where we want to be, but they can make up for it. So we’re opening August of 2020 and we’re playing our first football game here in September of 2020 and we’re going to make it happen.”
Of course the big ticket isn’t a football game, a soccer game or a track meet.
Instead, it’s the legacy the stadium project delivers to a campus which has never let a lack of outdoor creature comforts quell its pride in supporting first the NAIA’s only non-U.S. team, and then the NCAA’s only non-U.S. team.
“This was always (Lorne Davies’) vision and this is just the start,” said a prideful Orris. “I know it will become a centrepiece of the university… a central social hub, and then I think it’ll be just a matter of time before they are expanding it again.”
Adds Ford: “Today is not only a huge day for SFU athletics and SFU football but for the university. This is such a great opportunity to provide a true meeting place for our students. It becomes the place to meet on Saturday afternoons for football, or Thursdays for soccer. It will be great for so many people, but the main people who will benefit will be the students.”
That will be fifty-five years after Lorne Davies and the Simon Fraser Clan first trod on the expanse of Burnaby Mountain soil today known as Terry Fox Field.
Stadium or no stadium, Simon Fraser student-athletes and their loyal fans were always going to fight the good fight.
You can say, however, that Tuesday’s news turned their half-century home into a real Home, Sweet Home.
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