The Tonawanda football team walks out for one of its final games at the current location of Clint Small Stadium.
Time is a funny thing. It can often rob you of precious memories. But I heard it said before that memories of youth stay with you for the long haul.
Those words certainly ring true for the people of Tonawanda who were lucky enough to play at Clinton H. Small Stadium.
“I grew up on Elmwood Park,” said varsity football coach and former Warrior player Rob Gross. “I’ll miss the unique moments, whether it be as a young guy growing up, a player or as a coach, I remember people hanging out of the windows of the birch beer factory. I remember people watching from the railroad tracks. Whenever the train goes by they’re going to beep their horn. I remember when these lights were new my junior year of high school in 1988. The lights are 25 years old, the bulbs have been replaced. I remember when they put in the new lights and we all came out that night to watch them test them and turn them on.
I think it’ll be the small moments, rather than a whole game,” he continued. “Scoring a touchdown on this field. Those little 10 second moments are what I’ll remember most about this stadium. Not just as a coach, but as a player and a guy growing up in this community.”
While Gross is without question a strong supporter of the new complex, he, like so many others, are understandably wistful when it comes to their memories of this historic field.
Steven Warthling, a senior captain on the varsity football team called Small the only field he called home. Like his coach, for Warthling it’s the smaller things that will last in his memory banks.
“Every time I drive by I’ll know what was here and all of the memories here,” Warthling said as he looked around the field after one of the team’s last practice sessions.
“All of the great legends that played here for this program,” he added. “It’s really cool when you’re on that field and you’re about to take a snap and that train goes by; it gets your adrenaline rushing and all the people lining up at both end zones. Even after games, I like to drive up Roosevelt and still see the whole stadium lit up.”
The scoreboard at Clint Small Stadium situated right in front of neighborhood homes in Tonawanda.
THS athletic director Brad Halgash said that when the proper time comes there will be a ceremonial removing off sod from the current venue that will be transplanted to at the new complex. It will represent a passing of the torch of Warrior athletic pride.
Halgash said that members of not only Clinton Small’s family but the families of other Warrior legends like George H. Miller and Edward Leibinger will be invited to that ceremony.
Former athletic director and Tonawanda High School historian Robert “Hap” Holloway smiled and said he’s probably talked more about Small Stadium in the past month then in the previous 10 years combined.
Holloway has been a strong voice in leading the charge for a new stadium. Still, like everyone else, he has his memories.
“When I was a kid then a young adult there was a person named Otto Raich, he was in charge of that field,” Holloway said. “You could not walk on that field. He would be right there and he would go absolutely berserk if you walked on the field....It was definitely sacred ground. No question about that.”
Still is. From a varsity football only venue, Small would eventually go on to be the home of Warriors baseball, track and field and eventually the permanent home for the soccer teams. In time Small would also host junior varsity and modified teams.
While Otto may have bristled at the thought of other sports being played on his field there is no question it helped the legend of Small Stadium grow as more and more kids got the chance to create memories on that hallowed field.
Junior Kalyn Compeau, who is a member of the Lady Warriors varsity soccer team, feels lucky to be in the “transition” generation as she is part of the last group of athletes to play at the current stadium as well as the first that will play at the new venue.
But while Compeau is excited to get on the turf and the new Small Stadium, nothing will top the memory of her first varsity goal as an eighth grader, which was a playoff game-winner against Alden.
“It’s pretty sad,” Compeau said. “There’s been a lot of good things that have happened here. A lot of sad things happened here, but mostly good, like starting with that (first) game. I’ll never forget it.”