Kannapolis boosters launch project

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — The last whistle sounded at the massive mill that was once the town’s beating heart in 2003, but the city of Kannapolis has persevered.
The identity of the town now is centered on A.L. Brown High, where progress rarely calls a timeout. A new auxiliary gym that is home to the school’s strength-and-conditioning program as well as wrestling and volleyball matches opened in 2006, and the sparkling $8.1 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy is now operating.
Still, the most iconic asset of the school remains the massive football stadium that was constructed in 1958 as the home of the Wonders. Respectful of tradition, but eager to make things brighter for future generations, the Kannapolis Booster Club has announced that it’s kicking off a major fundraising and building project.
“Look, we understand the economy is poor and there is no guarantee it’ll get better soon,” club president Doug Wilson said. “But we’ve persevered through a lot as a city, and we think we can do this. Yes, it’s a huge undertaking, but we believe we can do it.”
Wilson said plans drawn up by club treasurer and project director Dale Fink have been presented to corporate sponsors and to the Kannapolis School Board, but this will be a “booster club deal” that won’t be draining funds from the school system.
Other key members of the club’s marketing team include vice president Dane Laney and secretary Shayne Fesperman.
Wilson said the club is looking at a timetable of up to 5 years for a multi-faceted, three-phase plan, with $4-5 million dollars as the ambitious fundraising goal.
“For many years, this booster club has been putting in $65-70,000 a year,” Wilson said. “The barbecues, the golf tournaments, the things we’ve done to raise funds for banquets, trophies and scholarships will continue, but this project will go above and beyond all that.”
Wilson explained the project began with a discussion of funding and building a new pressbox. Goals and dreams expanded quickly from there.
“We really got into this last summer,” Wilson explained. “The thinking was if we were going to raise money for a new pressbox, why not try to get everything done that was needed.”
The project will still begin with a state-of-the-art pressbox, a structure that will be the centerpiece of “Phase 1.”
“The pressbox now is 50 feet long,” Fink said. “The new one will be 140 feet, almost triple the size. “We plan to centralize what has been a hodgepodge of buildings.”
Fans have grown accustomed to seeing Wonder coaches and video crews operating from the roof of the pressbox regardless of weather, but change is coming.
The proposed multi-level pressbox will be fully enclosed and will contain a bathroom, a hospitality area and separate rooms for two coaching staffs, video operations, print media and radio. It will be accessible by elevator as well as stairs.
The bottom floor of the imposing structure will house the new concession stand.
“It’s a million-dollar first phase, and timing will depend on how fortunate we are raising money,” Wilson said. “I think once this pressbox is built, that’ll be the stimulus for all the rest. When you go to see corporate donors, they like to see that you’ve done some things to help yourself. If we can raise the money for the pressbox, we can point to that as something significant.”
Another improvement that will be pursued early will be to make the stadium more accessible to the handicapped, both in terms of parking and seating. Serious landscaping, paving and new fencing are other priorities.
“We want to have a paved walkway to get to the visitors side instead of having people walking through mud, grass and gravel,” Fink said.
Beyond that opening phase, the boosters have even grander plans in mind. “Phase 2” includes a turf field and a digital scoreboard.
“Phase 3” will include a new fieldhouse that will move the football team out of the basement of Bullock Gymnasium.
“Everyone thinks of Kannapolis as a football town, but a nice fieldhouse would benefit a lot more than football,” Fink said. “We’ve got lacrosse now. We’ve got four soccer teams (boys and girls, varsity and jayvee). We’ve got very good track teams. We had a girl (Melissa Morrison-Howard) who won two Olympic bronze medals.”
Fink, who is tackling the imposing job of contacting members of each of the A.L. Brown teams over the years in an attempt to spread the word about the project, envisions a “Stonehenge” setting inside the traditional ticket-gate entrance, with 8-foot columns honoring Morrison, the school’s long train of football greats and other notable contributors to Wonder athletics.
It all sounds wonderful, but sleeves obviously are going to have to be rolled up in order to drum up the funds necessary to make the pretty renderings on Fink’s computer screen brick-and-stone reality.
Early fundraising plans will include the sale of 120 choice VIP seats below the pressbox. A “Ring of Honor” is planned with plaques to be displayed behind the pressbox to reward major donors.
Also in the works is a walkway trail on which the Wonders will march into the stadium. Ideally, their path to glory will be constructed of thousands of 4×8 pavers (basically solid bricks without holes).
Each paver would be purchased by a Wonder supporter in honor of — or in memory of — a loved one.
“Pavers aren’t a new idea, but they work, and it’s something the average guy on the street in Kannapolis can get involved in,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of alumni here to tap into — 300 students a year for 60 years.”
One of the folks that came in to look at Memorial Stadium advised the boosters not to change too much because “they just don’t build them like this anymore.”
Kannapolis natives and A.L. Brown graduates, Wilson and Fink are determined to keep all that’s special, but they also want to make things better.
“The community spirit here is extremely high,” Wilson said. “This is a huge challenge, but we’re up to it, and we want to do this right.”
For more information or to help with the project, contact Wilson at 800-230-8819 or gwilsonjr1@carolina.rr.com.