This story will also appear in Saturday’s digital game program.
Under the grand stands on the west side of Centennial Bank Stadium sits a monument with names of individuals and businesses.
Fifty years ago, that group played a key role in making athletic director Don Floyd’s dream a possibility, as they contributed to the grassroots campaign in building a new stadium for Arkansas State Football. And while the facility and the surrounding area may have changed over the span of half a decade, their impact remains.
A-State football alumnus and 2014 Hall of Honor inductee Robert Speer owns the distinction of being on teams that played in the last game at Kays Field in 1973 as well as the first game at a brand-new multi-million-dollar stadium in 1974. While he says he was happy to get to play the last game at Kays, he was even happier to be able to play in the opening contest of the new site.
“Kays was a very unique stadium,” Speer said. “It was small and outdated, but it was a great place to play because it was in the middle of campus. It provided opportunities for students to walk from their dorms to games, and for us, as players, to walk from our football dorms across campus on game day, which was neat.”
Speer fondly recalls the double-wide trailers used as locker rooms, as well as the afternoon games due to no functioning lights at the stadium until 1976.
“I liked the afternoon games,” the Jonesboro native said. “They were usually played at 1:00, so after we finished playing, we’d have time to socialize after a victory. The games back then only lasted a couple of hours because there weren’t any media breaks and TV, and everyone usually ran the ball so the games were over quickly. I liked it a lot, especially for those players who had family members that came in from out of town, and they got to spend a lot of time with families after the game.”
The area around the stadium also was not near as developed as it stands today. At the current site of the Embassy Suites hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center was, at one time, the A-State track and field complex that played host to several championship programs and athletes.
While memories abound of those tradition-rich teams on which Speer competed, the former defensive end fondly remembers homecoming week during his playing days.
“During homecoming week, all of the fraternities and sororities built floats in front of Wilson Hall,” he said. “Aggie Road was open through campus. They’d close the streets off and have dances at night, and everyone gathered around out there and socialized.
“The football team had a tradition that the freshmen had to beat a spirit drum during that week. So, for 24 hours a day, the freshmen took turns staying up all night and all day, and that drum had to be beating 24 hours a day. Everyone bought a homecoming corsage for their mother and their girlfriend to wear at the game. We also had the big dances after the game and bonfires. The band marched from the band room on Caraway Road, passing the football dorms, and we’d follow right behind them.”
While 50 years may have come and gone since its inaugural game, along with renovations and updates throughout the years, Centennial Bank Stadium still brings forth many memories to Arkansas State football alumni and fans, young and old.
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Feature Story: Celebrating 50 Seasons. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council