The foundation, locker room walls and playing surface at Kingston Stadium resonate with 63 years of football lore.
Parents have delighted in watching their youngsters perform. The words of coaches from Ted Lawrence to Tom Good to Vince Lombardi have reverberated from the dressing rooms. Spectators recall special Friday nights under the lights. And still today, those young athletes now as adults bring their Kingston recollections back to class reunion discussions.
As another high school football season gets underway, certainly more stories will be stitched into the history of Cedar Rapids’ venerable athletic facility.
Kingston Stadium opened Sept. 12, 1952, for a high school football jamboree featuring then-high schools Franklin, McKinley, Roosevelt and Wilson. It was built at a cost of $550,000, which in today’s dollars would be just under $5 million. With a seating capacity of 15,000, it was then considered one of the premier stadiums in Iowa.
Why the name Kingston?
Led by founder David W. King, pioneers established a settlement called Kingston in 1839 on the west side of the Cedar River. In a 1952 contest to name the stadium sponsored by The Gazette and the Board of Education, six of the 685 entrants suggested Kingston. Mrs. Ted G. Eicherly was declared the winner, based on her reasoning relating to the Kingston settlement.
The 1952 opener and dedication of Kingston drew an estimated 11,000 people, with the east and west stands nearly full and spectators spilling into the north horseshoe. Wilson met Franklin in a game of 6-minute quarters, and McKinley and Roosevelt squared off for a contest of 10-minute quarters.
In his dedication speech between games, Cedar Rapids Superintendent of Schools Clyde Parker said: “As Kingston Stadium is dedicated to the memory of valiant pioneers of this community, it is also dedicated to all of our wonderful young people of past, present and future generations in this community.
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“Through the years, outstanding experiences in Kingston Stadium will later become rich memories to thousands of people.”
Wilson and Franklin held back some of their athletes for the jamboree because each had to play a regular season game the next day. Wilson defeated Franklin, 6-0, and Roosevelt topped McKinley, 8-6. The first touchdowns at Kingston were scored by Wilson’s Ronnie Dostal, Roosevelt’s Jim “Diamond’’ Murdock and McKinley’s Tom Mims.
The opening night largely went off without a hitch, according to then-Gazette sports editor Gus Schrader. Aside from concession stands running out of food and drink, the only other exception was someone accidentally forgot to unlock one of the four ticket booths, thus creating congestion at the other three.
On Sept. 13, 1952, Franklin blanked Marshalltown, 14-0, in front of 5,000 fans at Kingston.
Various teams have called Kingston home through the years. Jefferson, Kennedy and Washington play their home games there. Regis and LaSalle used it when those schools were in existence. Coe College hosted games at Kingston before Clark Field was built. Semi-pro teams called the Falcons and Raiders played at both Kingston and Veterans Memorial Stadium in the 1970s.
And even professional teams called on Kingston.
The West Side Civic Club attracted pro games to Kingston for four years (1960-63). The games featured many NFL stars and annually drew crowds in five figures.
July 29, 1960 — A Canadian League exhibition game between the British Columbia Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers was held. The big attractions were about a dozen former Iowa Hawkeye stars, including Randy Duncan for B.C., and Kenny Ploen, Willie Fleming, Frank Gilliam and Bob Jeter for Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers won, 13-7, before 12,583 fans.
Sept. 2, 1961 — Featuring rookie quarterback and third-round draft pick Fran Tarkenton, the Minnesota Vikings debuted their first NFL season in 1961 against the George Halas-led Chicago Bears in an exhibition game. Hall of Famer Mike Ditka was in uniform for the Bears.
Aug. 18, 1962 — The Bears and Eagles drew another crowd of more than 12,000 fans. Sonny Jurgensen quarterbacked the Eagles against Halas’ troops.
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Sept. 7, 1963 — Lombardi and the star-studded Packers, led by Bart Starr, opposed the Washington Redskins before 13,500 people.
While it has largely been used for football, Kingston became a multiuse facility. Public schools used it for graduation ceremonies for several years. Today, the stadium also hosts band festivals, track meets and soccer matches.
Kingston has undergone few major changes in six decades, aside from the playing surface. On the periphery, the press box in 2011 was named in honor of Bob Brooks, who called the first Kingston games for KCRG radio in 1952 and hundreds afterward. In April 2014, a street that runs between Kingston and Vets was named Kurt Warner Way in honor of the former Regis star and Super Bowl champion quarterback.
Today’s high school games don’t draw near the thousands who turned out in the first two or three decades of its use. No one has been seated in the horseshoe area for years. The fenced area in the northeast corner of Kingston that quarantined middle school and high school students in the 1970s is long gone.
But to be sure, another generation of athletes and fans will pass through the Kingston turnstiles for a 64th season. And along the way this fall, more entries will be made into the stadium’s scrapbook.
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