A true home: Woodbury honors those who helped make Royals Stadium a reality 20 years ago
In 2013 it may seem preposterous to think Woodbury High School athletic teams played their home games in Cottage Grove’s Park High School. But that’s exactly how it used to be.
For 17 years Woodbury’s football and soccer teams called Park’s “District Stadium” their home field.
However, in 1992 a group of five men began an initiative called “Bring Our Teams Home,” resulting in Royals Stadium being built at Woodbury High School.
Spurred by longtime Woodbury football coach Gary Halvorson, the Bring Our Teams Home group of George Gossman, Bill Hargis, Mike Mularoni, John Norris and Bruce Soma was a nonprofit, grassroots organization that rallied the community, raised money and provided some good old roll-up-the-sleeves labor in order to build Royals Stadium.
“They set the bar very high for the rest of us,” said current Royals Booster Club President Peter McNiff. “They’re a great example and an inspiration to the rest of us. Their focus was on the kids at Woodbury High School and how to help them. They overcame obstacles and got things done.”
Growing frustrated with losing a true home-field advantage, Halvorson kick-started the initiative by reaching out to Soma and Hargis to share his vision of a home field for Woodbury High School. The three men met regularly for months to form a plan. Norris was hired to lead the fundraising charge, Mularoni produced the architectural plans and Gossman provided financial and community support.
Soma said Halvorson first got the idea for a grassroots effort to build a stadium after discovering a group of parents did so in Rochester.
“That was the start of the whole idea of Bring Our Teams Home,” Soma said. “We had some meetings with people and thought we’d give it a shot.”
Norris, who had two children graduate from Woodbury High School, believed both Park and Woodbury should have their own stadiums.
“It was confusing to a lot of people why Park had their own stadium and we didn’t,” he said. “There was an obvious flaw there.”
Norris said the five men who made up the group came from relatively small towns where football on Friday nights was a big event each week.
”Part of growing up in those communities was being able to go to sporting events as a family or as communities,” Norris said. “It was pretty obvious we didn’t have that same experience in Woodbury at first. I like to think we contributed to Woodbury becoming a real community.”
Hargis, who was the mayor of Woodbury from 1993 through 2010, had children at Woodbury High School at the time. He said Royals Stadium helped “build a sense of community.”
“That was really my main motivation,” Hargis said. “We could remember from our childhood how Friday night football games were a focal point for the community and that was kind of missing here.”
Soma said a lot of hard work went into building the stadium. For example, Soma’s dad Arnold was a bricklayer and built the original ticket booth with his own hands. Also, a group of people including Soma and Woodbury coaches and players bought bleachers from Sauk Rapids, took them apart, hauled them to Woodbury and put them up as the visiting stands.
“It was all grassroots and rolling up your sleeves,” Soma said. “There were many weekends when there were dozens of parents and players working on the stadium – doing manual labor, building gardens, putting up press boxes and ticket booths and all kinds of things. A lot of sweat went into that stadium.”
Soma said he felt what was most impressive was how the project pulled the community together.
“People took a lot of pride in it,” Soma said. “It wasn’t just something that happened. They actually rolled up their sleeves and did the work and were proud of it. I think it made a significant difference in the togetherness of the community as well as the football team and soccer teams.”
Royals Stadium opened Sept. 17, 1993. Hargis said he remembered the very first football game at the new stadium fondly.
“We took an idea and a concept and made it happen,” Hargis said. “That was a good feeling. It was a mission accomplished when we saw it done and it looked good. I don’t think we did it just for our own kids, but for all the kids and the community in general.”
At the first football game at Royals Stadium, a number of the individuals who were integral in the Bring Our Teams Home project were brought out to the middle of the field. The Woodbury football team held up their helmets in a salute to the work they had done.
“That was one of the proudest moments of my life, other than family things,” Soma said. “I know everyone in the middle of that field could feel the shivers going up their back.”
Soma, Hargis and Norris still visit Royals Stadium often. For 20 years, the three men have managed the chains as officials at each of the Woodbury football team’s home games.
”It means a lot to get to participate at the field we were able to build for the community,” Norris said. “It really was a team effort.”
The five men will be inducted into Woodbury’s second Hall of Fame class on Friday, Sept. 27, along with fellow inductees Louis Ayeni, Abby Frost, Bob Longo, Lindsey Huff and Dwayne Tannahill.
“It’s a big honor to be recognized,” Soma said. “It’s certainly an honor to be thought of in the same light as some of the people who have been inducted and all the accomplishments they’ve had.”
The Hall of Fame induction will be part of Woodbury’s Homecoming week festivities. The activities begin with a public welcome reception at 3 p.m. in the WHS media center. Following the reception, inductees will take part in the Homecoming parade. After a private dinner for the Hall of Fame inductees and their guests, they will be honored at the stadium at approximately 6:45 p.m., just prior to the Royals game against Forest Lake.
Royals Booster Club member Mary Jo Kurtz, who has two daughters at WHS, has been instrumental in organizing the Hall of Fame events.
“It’s really exciting and a lot of fun,” she said. “The kids really enjoy this. The Hall of Fame provides a connection to the past for the kids. It really shows the kids something to work towards and what they can accomplish as well.”