Reflections looks back at the movement of a Sumter public school’s football program to the upscale stadium at the fairgrounds during the World War II era. The first football games were first played on the “old race track just beyond Judge Green’s place on North Main Street. There was no enclosure around the field. Receipts from the games were taken by passing the hat.” Later, games were played at the practice fields at the respective high schools. The information and photos used to prepare this article were taken from The Sumter Item archives.
In September of 1936, Hugh Stoddard, coach of the Sumter High School football team, announced that “arrangements had been completed for the installation of floodlights on the Sumter practice field (which was also used for games). “In addition, four home games under the lights were scheduled for the upcoming season. It was also noted that there would be no increase in the price of admission for the night games. Observers anticipated a tremendous increase in attendance compared to the afternoon contests.”
In July of 1940, the Sumter School Board authorized the construction of bleachers on the athletic field at Edmunds High School. The bleachers were to be placed on the east side of the field and were to be completed by the beginning of the football season. In addition to the bleachers at Edmunds High, the purchase of seats for the Lincoln High School auditorium was also authorized.
In September of 1940, the Sumter Board of Education made a surprise announcement concerning the transfer of the Sumter High football games to the Sumter County Fairgrounds and the removal of the lighting system from the high school and installation of it at the fairground field. This enhancement would also entail purchasing taller poles and maintaining the system. The local school board agreed that the high school would pay the Fair Association $100 per year for the use of the field. The Fair Association would, in turn, pay for current use and replace any and all light bulbs that burned out during the games; the association also agreed to keep the fields and stands in playing condition for the school.
The use of this facility would provide ample seating, 7,500 seats compared to only 3,000 at the school, adequate parking spaces and a better playing field. Disadvantages would include increased distance from the school, loss of use of the school gym for dressing and storage and home-field advantage. The board took no action on this matter while approving a proposal to invite public opinion regarding the transfer.
The decision to move the high school games did not take place until May of 1946 after the conclusion of World War II. Only then did The Sumter Daily Item learn that the school board had accepted the offer of the American Legion, operators of the County Fair, to relocate the high school lighting system and use the field for future football contests.
“A school board member noted that the city would be asked to provide suitable street lighting on those streets leading to the stadium and furnish sufficient police protection to handle the crowds during the games. The Fair Association would replace the wooden stands with steel ones and increase the seating capacity to almost 8,000 spectators. The question of an adequate playing facility for Sumter public schools Edmunds and Lincoln would not be solved until 1960, when the city would entertain thoughts of building a new stadium removed from the downtown region. This transition occurred in 1963 when Memorial Stadium was completed.
According to an article published in The Item in 1962, the new Pinewood Road facility was “initially designed for Edmunds High games, however, the other county schools would be free to use the stadium for championships, playoffs and other games of significance. It was also announced that plans for a new second stadium would be constructed at Bates Junior High School, located on Bailey Street. It was anticipated that most schools would prefer to use their own lighted fields for normal home games. Plans were to develop the Pinewood stadium first to reduce the overload at the Fairgrounds Stadium which would be used indefinitely unless the Fairgrounds Association members decided to discontinue it.”