Mesa Musings: Proposed L.A. stadium has nothing on LeBard Stadium

A panel of Los Angeles City Council members has shown considerable interest in "fast-tracking" a study on building a downtown football stadium next to Staples Center and L.A. Live.

The proposed $1-billion stadium, — complete with retractable roof to protect fans from Southern California's notorious autumnal nor'easters — would seat 64,000.

I don't mean to splash cold water on the panel's self-congratulatory high-fives and backslaps, but, for us Newport-Mesans, this stadium brouhaha is so yesterday.

Fifty-seven years ago, we began constructing a football structure that has served our community well to this day. And its price tag was far below that of the proposed L.A. stadium — about 1/3,000th of the cost!

Admittedly, the edifice of our local stadium lacks a fancy sunroof, but over the decades I've attended more than 200 football games there and got drenched maybe once.

This local palace is a gem of a sports venue housed on a community college campus. I am talking, of course, about Orange Coast College's LeBard Stadium — originally Pirate Stadium — which was built from 1954-55 at a cost of almost $300,000. It opened in time for the 1955 football season.

Built by Parker, Zehnder and Associates, the stadium was constructed to accommodate 7,600 fans. Dirt was excavated from the site of the field and piled high along the sidelines to form the underpinning for the grandstands. The playing surface is below grade, giving the stadium a sunken-bowl design.

OCC's first head football coach, Ray Rosso, played a central role in the design. He made certain it was fan-friendly. All seats are close to the action.

In 56 seasons, the stadium has hosted about 800 community college and high school games, attracting what I'd estimate at more than 2 million fans. I've attended games when 10,000 fans overflowed the bleachers and spilled out into the ivy. I've seen temporary bleachers installed above the south end zone.

In 2004, the stadium underwent a stunning makeover to include improved seating and access for disabled fans, as well as an artificial playing surface. A field house was completed in 2007.

I became acquainted with the stadium in June 1958. My Everett A. Rea Junior High School graduation ceremony was held there.

During my junior and senior years at Costa Mesa High School, our varsity football team played its home games at LeBard and also at Davidson Field at Newport Harbor High School. The first game I witnessed at LeBard was Mesa's 25-0 victory over Covina's Northview High School on Oct. 14, 1960. It was the Mustangs' first game at OCC.

My high school graduation was held in the stadium in June 1962.

I joined OCC's staff as public information officer in 1971. For my first 15 years on staff, I also served as sports information director and ran the press box for all the home games. For the next 20 years, I served as the public address announcer at OCC home games.

I've also attended numerous high school games, and community college bowl games played in the stadium, along with 31 OCC commencement exercises. I was on hand for several Fourth of July fireworks shows, a Calvary Chapel Easter sunrise service, a 1974 student-sponsored rock concert, a late-1970s Bob Hope concert, several high school all-star football games, and a smattering of professional soccer matches and band competitions.

The stadium has served as a versatile venue.

In addition to the above-mentioned events, the Miami Dolphins practiced at LeBard in January 1973 in preparation for Super Bowl VII at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins in that game, 14-7. In 1987, both Super Bowl teams — the New York Giants and Denver Broncos — held their media photo day at the OCC stadium.

Big-10 powerhouses Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois, and Southeastern Conference stalwart, Alabama, have all practiced at LeBard prior to games at the Rose Bowl.

My purpose for mentioning all of this is to say that although the future downtown L.A. stadium might be a billion-dollar stunner, I'll continue to cherish LeBard as a jewel among our community's more prized possessions.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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