Center Grove has had a big-time football program for several years now, having positioned itself as a regular state title contender.
It just hasn’t always necessarily felt that way on Friday nights.
Last season, the Trojans were playing in front of capacity crowds, but that capacity, at least in the bleachers, was 4,013 seats. Meanwhile, conference foes Ben Davis and Warren Central each have room for about 9,000 people at their home games.
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Tonight, Center Grove will show that it’s closed the gap a bit.
Thanks in large part to some financial assistance from local auto dealer Ray Skillman, the Trojans will have room for about 6,000 in brand-new bleachers. Those seats, combined with a much larger press box, should serve to create a backdrop more befitting of a football juggernaut.
According to Center Grove spokesperson Stacy Conrad, the estimated cost of replacing the bleachers was $1.5 million, which was covered by a donation from Skillman. The final cost of the new press box was not yet known.
“This was built in ‘75, so it needed an overhaul,” Center Grove athletics director Jon Zwitt said of the stadium. “Every game was almost standing room only, and a lot of people just didn’t want to come at 6 o’clock to be able to get a seat.”
The old bleachers were ripped out in the spring, and construction has been ongoing. The press box, which is about six times the size of the previous one, actually mightr not be 100 percent complete by kickoff tonight.
But it will be close enough.
“I think the fans, and just the whole community’s excited about this,” senior running back Titus McCoy said. “It’s a great opportunity. I wish I had four years in it.”
Center Grove coach Eric Moore said that the game-day environment in recent years was still raucous but noted that the facilities were “ridiculous for (Class) 6A.”
He says some of his players are concerned that the expanded seating may take away from the environment because the intimacy will be lost, but he’s confident that the team and the fans will “grow into it.”
Any concerns, though, seem to be outweighed by positive vibes. The players are eager to debut their new digs tonight.
“It’s definitely going to make it more exciting,” senior linebacker Bailey Bennett said.
“The community’s really excited for it,” McCoy added, “so we’re going to come out and give them our best show.”
Ray Skillman Stadium by the numbers:
Previous capacity: 4,013
New capacity: 6,000
Previous press box size: 498 square feet
New press box size: 3,000 square feet
Approximate cost of new bleachers: $1.3 million