The stadium that missed the extra point

The Duluth East High School sports stadium sits just up the hill from Lake Superior.
The Duluth East High School sports stadium sits just up the hill from Lake Superior.

I just want to pick this football stadium up and turn it around so people in the stands can see that amazing lake view.

But I suppose lake views don’t really matter to most sports fans or school administrators.

As a newcomer to Duluth living in its Lakeside neighborhood, one of the first things I noticed on a drive down Superior Street was the Duluth East High School athletic field. The field is built into a hill overlooking Lake Superior and pops out of a residential area like a blitzing linebacker.

Superior Street passes high above the grounds and eastbound drivers get a sudden burst of artificial-turf green and deep-water blue. The facility looks like a shiny, new model on an architect’s desk…an architect with a backwards head.

Why didn’t the stadium designers build the bleacher seating on the other side of the field?

Put the bleachers on the other side of the field and Duluth East High School has a sports stadium with the most beautiful view in the midwest. The rolling lake, the endless horizon, the clouds, the ships –  this is all unique, amazing stuff that would make sitting through a 12-0 soccer game a pure joy.

It turns out school officials had more on their mind than “wowing” a bunch of sports fans.

The 2,000 capacity stadium was built in 2012 as part of a controversial Duluth School District

Here's the layout of the Duluth East High School athletic fields from a 2009 school district plan. (Graphic from Duluth News Tribune).
Here’s the layout of the Duluth East High School athletic fields from a 2009 school district plan. (Graphic from Duluth News Tribune).

facilities improvement project. The $315 million project closed schools, built new ones and generally pissed off every parent, student and taxpayer in the district. The new athletic field cost around $6 million and was built into a tight space on an old junior high property. Millionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wasn’t calling the shots on this one.

Still, flip-flopping the bleachers couldn’t have added that much more to the construction costs, could it?

Maybe east side bleachers were necessary for access reasons. Bleachers on the east side of the field are closer to the school building and parking lots. Scenic west side bleachers would be backed into a hillside and make fans walk a longer distance to their seats.  No one wants to walk anymore.

Last week, I watched my nephew play a high school football game at Todd Field in Hastings. The field was built on top of an old town dump back in 1934. An impressive 15-foot-high field stone wall separates the game from a busy Hwy. 61. A mysterious tunnel that once delivered players into the stadium is sealed off in a far corner. Ancient cement block seating crumbles below today’s modern steel bleachers. The place has a charming and unforgettable Roman ruins feel to it.

Like Yankee Stadium or US Bank Stadium, high school gyms or football fields help define a community identity. A stadium, no matter the size, is a living historical site. It is a special gathering place, that binds families, friends and neighborhoods for generations. Stadiums can be bigger than touchdowns, goals or gold medals.

Sure, the Duluth East athletic field is state-of-the-art and will make plenty of memories for Greyhound players and their fans. Students should be proud of the facility, it’s a neat and handy place to see and play in a game.

I guess I’m just a sports fan whose more into aesthetics than athletics.

So I’ll take a spot at the Duluth East stadium somewhere in the corner and crank my neck around between plays. Because while it’s fun to watch the team beat a cross-town rival, the game will never beat that wonderful lake view.


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