BURBANK — They spent countless hours and large portions of their high school years competing and practicing on the football field and running track at Memorial Field.
Many players and coaches from Burroughs High and Burbank have fond memories of toiling on the sometimes muddy, often barren and uneven football venue or trying to deal with outdated track and field facilities and an outdated dirt running surface.
But that was the old Memorial Field.
Some of those same coaches and players got a chance to view the new state-of-the-art Memorial Field that was unveiled Saturday in a dedication ceremony of the facility on the campus of Burroughs High.
The $12.2-million facility that is home to the Bulldogs and Indians football teams, as well as Bellarmine-Jefferson, features a new athletic field with artificial turf, an all-weather track, new pole vault, long jump, high jump and throwing areas, as well as new bleachers, lighting, restrooms and concession stands.
Individuals attending Saturday’s event were impressed and even in awe of the updated stadium.
Burbank Mayor Jess Talamantes was a standout football player at Burroughs, graduating in 1971. He was one of many who was impressed with the way the facility turned out.
“I played football in this stadium and I ran track here as well,” he said. “It looks so good now it makes me want to go back in time to be able to play on them now.
“In 1991, I was on a search committee to try and come up with a plan to get a new athletic facility here. Now, after 20 years, we were finally able to make that happen. ...It’s long overdue. And to see how it turned out is just amazing.”
David Machuca has a unique perspective on the new facility. Machuca is a 2002 Burbank graduate and played football for the Bulldogs. However, Machuca is also the new Bell-Jeff football coach, and said he is excited about coaching home games at the venue starting in the fall.
“It’s amazing to see how this thing has turned out,” Machuca said. “I remember playing here on a dirt field when I was at Burbank High. And now to have the opportunity for the kids to play on a brand new artificial turf in a brand new stadium is great. We at Bell-Jeff are honored to be a part of this and we feel fortunate to be able to play at this facility.”
Bob Dunivant spent this share of time roaming the sidelines at Memorial Field. Dunivant became the winningest football coach in Indians history (123-78-6) and was the architect for many of the school’s most successful teams. Coaching from 1961-79, and returning for a stint in 1991, Dunivant helped guide the Indians to seven Foothill League championships and 10 CIF Southern Section playoff appearances.
The venerable former coach said he was impressed with the new facility.
“It’s beautiful, and I admire what they’ve done,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. It’s definitely a lot better than anything that we had to play on.”
Another former coach, Greg Sobiech, who was at the helm with the Bulldogs from 2002-06, came to the ceremony to get a peek at the updated venue.
“It’s just beautiful,” he said. “It’s really something the city can be proud of.”
Construction of the facility lasted 14 months. As a result, the three Burbank-area football teams had to play all of their games on the road during the 2011 season. The project was originally scheduled to begin in April of 2009, but was delayed 21 months.
Dave Kemp was involved in helping the project finally come to fruition. Kemp is a former Burbank coach and athletic director who is now a member of the Burbank School Board. He wondered if the project would ever get done.
“Five or six years ago I really didn’t think it was going to happen,” said Kemp, who coached football at Burbank and, along with Frank Kallem, helped lead the Bulldogs to CIF Southern Section championships in boys’ cross-country in 1964 and 1970. “But we were persistent and we kept grinding people down until finally we got everyone convinced that it was an important thing for the community.”
Along with all the praise of the new venue, there are some who will miss the old, run-down relic that was the old Memorial Field.
“We were used to playing on mud,” said former Burroughs football player Tyler Yanez, who was among the last group of players to compete on the old field in 2010. “It would be pretty cool to play on the new field, but I kinda like the mud feeling of the old field. We always had an advantage with the old field, because we practiced on it every day and teams would come in to play us and they would be used to turf and they would be slipping and everything.”
Memorial Field has been the home of the Big Game rivalry between Burroughs and Burbank for more than 60 years. Memorial Field was dedicated on May 29, 1946, and the name serves to commemorate the 21 students and two teachers from Burroughs who were killed in action during World War II.
The rivalry began in 1949, when All-American Paul Cameron and Pete LiPera — who would later become the Burbank coach — led the Bulldogs to a 12-7 win against Burroughs, which had been converted from a junior high.
The Indians got revenge the next year, however, as Louis Elias waded through “Lake Memorial” on a 41-yard carry for the game’s only score, as Burroughs won, 6-0.
With more memories set to begin with next season’s crop of Burbank and Burroughs athletes, some players can’t wait for the opportunity to play at the new Memorial Field.
“I’m just glad I’m a junior now because I’m going to be able to play on this field next season,” Burroughs football player Michael Kim said. “It’s something I definitely look forward to.”