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08/03/2009 - From the Press Box: End of an era in Grand Island for football field

Jeff Motz

It was June 3, 1980 that seven tornadoes ripped through and around Grand Island, changing the city's landscape along heavily traveled Locust Street.  Almost 30 years later, business is thriving in that part of GI and life is back to normal.

The winds of change have hit another legendary spot in Grand Island, but it's a different magnitude.  It wasn't Mother Nature's doing this time, it was the concept of keeping up with everyone else and go with an all weather surface.  Field turf is going to be installed at Grand Island Senior High's Memorial Stadium.

Bobby Mills is a blogger and prep sports writer for the Grand Island Independent newspaper and GI Prep  He wrote a special blog about his personal connection to the stadium.  To read it, go to this link:

In many ways, I know where Mills is coming from.  As a kid growing up in the shadows of Northeast High School, I wanted to play in the same gym where some of the Rocket greats did.  I had that chance as a freshman and it was the same year the old Ed Johnson Gym was closed for regular play during the season.  The following year, the brand new Ed Johnson Gym opened up and there, a new set of legends were born.  Still, there was a little bit of sentimental value to the old gym.  
Big time players played there and not just Rocket ballplayers that were among the great players the state has ever seen.  I remember seeing Andre Woolridge and Omaha Benson fall to a rugged Northeast team in 1991, eventual state champions Norfolk and Millard South fall to the Rockets in 1987 and 1988 respectively.  Columbus had a couple of heated battles at the old barn in 1988 and 1990.  Each of those games, the doors had to be shut at the tip off of the JV game because of capacity issues. 

That aside, the "new" Johnson Gym has seen some great players come through in the past 16 years.  

Alton Mason, Mike Hahn, Tee Mason, Jimmy Motz and  Andrew Bridger have put on great one man shows in front of the home crowd.  Guys like East's Shawn Redhage and Mike Bargen; Hastings' Bo Buettenback; Southeast's Jake Muhleisen, Nick Bahe and Matt Hill; and Grand Island's Wes Wilkenson have come into Rocketville for great performances, too.  

The point I'm trying to make is even with new places, new traditions can be started.

As I still call it after all these years, the "new" Ed Johnson Gym has already proved that theory to work.  Four state championship teams from 1995 to 1998 played on the floor night in and night out, top collegiate prospects have performed to the top of their ability in front of great crowds.  

So, Bobby, I understand where you're coming from.  It's tough to hold on to something that you've cherished so much.  But with new a new football field........great games and players will make their mark, as they did on the old field.

I can imagine that guys like Ken Fischer, Tom Rathman, Harry Grimminger, Jeff Finn, Jack Jeffries and several other legendary Islander athletes would be very appreciative of what's taking shape.

Look at it this way, you won't see a lot of wear and tear on the field by the end of the season.

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