As I drove into town last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the modern stadium that loomed over West Highland Avenue. The brick facade gives it an older, throwback look. The press box was well done and professional looking.

I hadn’t even been inside the wrought-iron gates of Kennison Field yet, and I was impressed.

“In many ways, it’s monolithic,” local radio broadcaster Erick Olson said.

He wasn’t kidding.

It’s the tallest building that can be occupied in Hermiston. It dwarfs everything around it.

The inside, though, was absolutely amazing.

The new turf gives Kennison the ability to host late-round playoff games under Oregon School Activities Association standards. The press box has enough space, with enough rooms, to meet OSAA regulations to host those games, as well. Clearly it wasn’t about making it as good a facility for Hermiston. It was making it a top facility in the region.

“It’s an embarrassment of riches, but I don’t think anyone’s embarrassed about it,” Olson said.

They shouldn’t be.

The stadium in the town I come from in southwest Washington doesn’t hold a candle to what I’ve seen at Kennison Field. The press box is corrugated aluminum and hangs from the overhead awning like a fly. I’ve never been in it because I always thought it would fall off while I was inside. The benches are wood, and old wood at that. It does have a visitor side, but it’s at least 50 years old, and saying it’s decrepit is a compliment.

I think the best part about Kennison Field is three-fold.

First, it’s a regional source of pride.

Although the football field is personalized to Hermiston High, the facility is intended for region-wide use. OSAA mandates that all state semifinal and final games are to be played on turf, a bill that Kennison Field now fits. It hosts football games for Stanfield and other small, local high schools. It hosts collegiate events, even collegiate football practices.

Bulldog Athletic Director Blaine Ganvoa sees the potential.

“It’s wide open what we can do with it,” he said.

Second, the focus of the project was to accommodate all aspects of athletic events. The fan experience to concessions to merchandise was considered in construction, everything from where the booster club will sell gear to cookers used in the concession stand. Project organizers wanted it to be a great place to be a fan.

Third, the community outpouring is staggering.

The $5 million project was funded by community donations and grant money from the State of Oregon. Construction companies donated materials and time. Hermiston Deputy District Superintendent Wade Smith has been involved with many construction projects in his time as an administrator, but he said this is the “most rewarding and delightful” project in which he’s ever been a part. He said the community support and the “grassroots” effort necessary to finish a project on that scale has stayed with him. He said the Hermiston Booster Club raised $250,000, and the school district raised $1.4 million in less than six months.

“It just continues to blow me away the support that this town gives,” Smith said.

It blows me away, too — the stadium, the community support and love of it. All of it. I feel right at home here.

— Sam Barbee is the Hermiston Herald sports reporter. He can be reached at sbarbee@hermistonherald.com

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