By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Thirty-seven years ago Missouri Southern’s football team moved across town from Junge Field to Fred G. Hughes Stadium on campus.
“We needed a facility,” said Jim Frazier, former Lions coach and athletics director. “We were very pleased to have the opportunity to play at Junge Field; however, it was not a home field.
“I think Dr. (Leon) Billingsly’s long-term plan was to have a football stadium on campus. It seemed like the timing was such to do it. It was a Leon Billingsly brainchild.”
The stadium was dedicated on Sept. 20, 1975. It’s named in honor of Hughes, who was president of the college’s Board of Regents when the stadium was built. He is also a former publisher at The Globe.
The stadium cost $1.7 million, and none of it came from tax money. Postmaster Bob Higgins was chairman of the fund-raising drive.
“We didn’t raise all the money,” Frazier said. “I spoke to every civic group within a 50-mile radius of Joplin. I made a lot of friends and met a lot of people during those times.”
The stadium seed was planted three years earlier when the Lions won 7-0 at Nevada-Las Vegas.
“We really liked their facility,” Frazier said. “We liked their turf, we liked their locker rooms at the north end.”
School officials also made a trip to West Lafayette, Ind., to look at Purdue’s prescription athletic turf.
“It was beautiful ... flat as a table,” Frazier said. “Purdue has the Million Dollar Band, and I asked the guy showing us around how many times the band got on it. He said ‘five times at halftime.’ Football never practiced on it one day.
“We had ROTC, we had band, we had soccer, we had no place to practice football. With the success and attitude we had toward Astroturf, and for the multiple-use concept, the logical thing for us to do was put in Astroturf.”
The Lions’ new home was the first college stadium in Missouri to have an Astroturf surface. To pay for the turf, individuals, businesses and organizations purchased one square yard for $33.75 per year for a three-year commitment.
“We felt it was a no-brainer,” Frazier said. “We had no maintenance. We spent about $33 a year on paint for the lines. That’s all the maintenance we had, and that served us 13 years. I think we made a great decision.”
The stadium is different from the architect’s original plan.
Phase 1 of the project had seating for about 10,000 between the 30-yard lines, and two sections could be added later on all four corners to raise capacity to more than 16,000. However, the proposed 5,000 seats on the east side of the field were cut in half.
“I don’t know if we ran out of money or what, but we quit building,” Frazier said. “Dr. Billingsly is probably the only guy who knows the answer to that. His comment to me was they’ll have to finish it some day.”
Phase 2 included a locker room and weight room at the south end of the stadium, but that phase has yet to materialize.
Today the football field is covered with Sprinturf, a synthetic surface that looks and feels like natural grass. There is also an all-weather surface on the 400-meter track around the football field. Both were installed in 2003 in an $820,000 project.
Fred G. Hughes Stadium
Cost: $1.7 million
Seating capacity: 7,000
First game: Sept. 6, 1975 (MSSC 20, Kansas State College of Emporia 13)
Dedication game: Sept. 20, 1975 (MSSC 26, Missouri-Rolla 6)
First touchdown: Robert Davis, MSSC, Sept. 6, 1975 (2-yard run)
First field goal: Harvey Derrick, MSSC, Sept. 20, 1975 (34 yards)
Most points, Missouri Southern: 68 vs. Evangel, Sept. 18, 1982, and vs. Southwest Baptist, Oct. 22, 2011
Most points, opponent: 52 by Northwest Missouri State, Oct. 29, 2011
Highest scoring game: Missouri Western 49, Missouri Southern 48, 2OT, Nov. 9, 1996
Missouri Southern record: 108-74-3 (entering 2012)
Undefeated home seasons: 1976, 1985, 1994 (all 5-0)