VILONIA — As twilight approached and shadows merged with sun, Fred Weaver looked down upon a lush green artificial playing surface of a stadium and a program he has watched grow from roots in soggy bottoms.
Weaver has had both a groundhog’s and a bird’s eye view of Vilonia for almost half a century.
He has poured dirt, concrete, sweat and passion into the program. He and several others in the community, part of its history from the beginning, are now writing its history in a work that will be published sometime next year.
Vilonia played its first football games in 1967 in Hendrix’s old Young Memorial Stadium.
“This was swampland,” said Weaver, looking out from the press box of Phillip Weaver Stadium, named for his late son, a former Vilonia and University of Central Arkansas standout who died in a vehicle accident. “The land was really good for nothing, most of it all covered up with vegetation. The actual football field part of the outfield of an old baseball field that had overgrown.”
Weaver, the head of a construction company, and many others became involved to make something out of nothing with the fledgling football program.
They moved dirt, built an old-school, primitive, no-frills stadium from scratch.
Weaver recently researched the costs, and if contracted out, were about $300,000 in 1979 and would be about $968,000 in today’s economy. The first game played on the original turf field was in 1980.
“We got a group who just wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before,” Weaver said. “The booster club borrowed money to build a fieldhouse.”
Weaver has manned the clock at Vilonia football games for 47 years, almost dating back to hour glass days.
“When I first started, I had an old stopwatch and a pistol with blanks that I would fire at the end of quarters,” he said. “We got an old used clock off an old scoreboard, but it didn’t make a sound so I had to to fire off the pistol when the quarters ended.”
He and the late Tony Rodgers, for whom he current press box is named, became friends and companions from those early days. Weaver kept the clock; Rodgers handled the public address.
“We would sit in the back of a pickup truck with speakers on the side for the public address,” Weaver said.
Then, things literally went upscale.
“We got an old work platform from American Airlines and for 13 years, Tony and I did our work from that raised platform,” Weaver said. “We had extension cords that ran from the stadium surface to the platform. When it rained, we’d cover ourselves and the equipment with Visqueen and carried on. And it seemed it rained every time we had a home game.”
Vilonia’s stadium was upgraded in 1993 and to its current configuration in 2008. Although contractors were involved in the more complex work for the upgrade, much of the grunt work was again done by volunteers.
Weaver has gone from a stopwatch and a pistol to a modern wireless operation.
“Everything is wireless,” he said. “If something goes wrong, you replace a chip or a piece. If there used to be a problem of wiring, you had to check it out from end to end. It could be anywhere. It was a lot harder.”
For almost half a century, Weaver has watched bad teams, good teams, championship teams and hard-luck teams.
He considers one of his biggest thrills is going through his labors in the press box while watching both his sons, Phillip and Matt, play on the field he helped build.
He’s seen Vilonia go from a tiny, Class B school to a thriving 5A institution in the toughest football conference in its classification.
“I’ve seen us go from getting beat 60-0 to having some championship teams and the program getting better,” he said.
“I remember a bunch of people building a field from nothing and from part of an outfield of an old baseball field. And there were no holes on that field. Unbelievable.”
Nowadays, he takes a break or two from the clock operation to train possible successors.
Whatever the duties, he and the Vilonia program will always be intertwined.
“From Day 1, I just got into it and never quit.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd.com)