NORFOLK — Foreman Field opened on Oct. 3, 1936 with much fanfare, including a parade, a ribbon-cutting ceremony overseen by Virginia’s governor and a low-scoring but exciting football game in which Virginia defeated William & Mary 7-0.
On Nov. 17, more than 82 years later, the stadium will go out as it came in – with a celebration.
Old Dominion will throw a block party, pep rally and concert at Brock Commons, and then put on a fireworks display, host a reunion of players from ODU’s 10 seasons of football and finish the night with an emotional turn-out-the-lights ceremony.
For generations of Hampton Roads residents who grew up watching games at the old stadium, the farewell celebration will revive fond memories.
Foreman Field was once the grandest and largest stadium in the commonwealth, and hosted big-time football teams such as Georgia, South Carolina and 1959 national champion Syracuse in the Oyster Bowl, and pro football exhibitions in which Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas played.
But engineers long ago determined that the unique clam-shell sidelines of Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, as it is now known, must be replaced.
S.B. Ballard Construction will begin tearing down the stands shortly after the VMI game. They will be replaced over the next nine months with new structures that include more comfortable seating that is closer to the field, new concession stands, restrooms and press box.
Seats will be roomier and concessions and restroom facilities will be larger and more modern.
Final renderings of the stadium might not be ready until November, as officials are still putting the finishing touches on the stadium’s design.
“While we’ll be celebrating the past, we’ll also be celebrating the future,” ODU President John R. Broderick said. “The new stadium is going to provide a much better experience for our fans. We’ll be able to provide them with enhanced amenities that have long been missing.”
The new Ballard Stadium is set to open Aug. 31, 2019, appropriately against cross-town rival Norfolk State, which played home games at Foreman Field for nearly two decades.
The stadium farewell will begin two days before the last game on Nov. 15, with a block party at Brock Commons in the University Village.
Broderick, coach Bobby Wilder and his team will kick off festivities by speaking to the crowd at a 5:30 p.m. pep rally.
At 6 p.m., a concert featuring the Deloreans, a band that plays hits from the 1980s, is set to begin. It will be a family-friendly event, with inflatables for kids and food trucks to supplement the restaurants along Monarch Way. It will end at 8.
On Nov. 17, VMI and ODU kick off at 2 p.m.
VMI is bringing its band, most of the student body and its large Hampton Roads alumni base.
At halftime, the ODU band will form a “10,” signifying that this is the University’s 10th season of football. All players from the previous nine seasons have been invited to attend, and those that do will be introduced on the field.
Areas will be set up where fans can take selfies with signs indicating this was the last game played at the stadium. Historic moments from the past, including the top 10 home football games played by ODU, will be shown on the video board during timeouts.
Fans will also be presented with commemorative posters.
At game’s end, Broderick will join current and former players on the field, along with Virginia Beach attorney Sonny Stallings, to be honored for their steadfast work in public and behind the scenes which led the Board of Visitors to approve the startup of football in 2005.
In 1936, there were many tributes to A.H. Foreman, who helped form the school that would become Old Dominion University and attracted federal money that allowed a football stadium to be built. His family has been invited to attend.
Broderick, Wilder and Stallings will speak, then will come the lump-in-your-throat, turn-out-the-lights ceremony.
The band will play ODU’s alma mater, followed by a short video of highlights of the stadium’s past, from Oyster Bowls to a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in 1974 that drew 33,000, the largest crowd ever at the stadium.
Then the stadium’s old lights will be turned off and, well, you’ll have to be there to see what happens next.
Jason Chandler, ODU’s associate athletic director for strategic marketing and revenue generation, said the university plans to offer discounted tickets to residents of Larchmont, Highland Park and Lamberts Point, the three neighborhoods that surround ODU.
Residents of those neighborhoods will be able to purchase tickets usually priced at $33 for just $10 apiece.
“We want this to be a neighborhood event,” Chandler said. “This stadium has been a part of the fabric of the city for decades. We want our neighbors to be involved.”