Belaire preparing for first game in its own stadium

Keith Woods could picture himself pacing the sideline and barking out play calls when he took the job as Belaire High School’s football coach two years ago. The veteran coach probably never anticipated what he was doing at 10 a.m. Labor Day.

Yet there Woods was, manning a riding mower. He was busy cutting the grass on the field in anticipation of the Bengals first-ever home football game Friday night.

“I guess they got started on (the Belaire facility) in either April or May,” Woods said. “Once the work started, I felt pretty good about it. There are a couple of things that need to be finished, but it looks like we’ll be OK. The main thing we wanted was to give the kids a chance to play here at their school.”

Belaire is scheduled to host Glen Oaks at 7 p.m. Friday at the school for its season opener. It’s one of three games scheduled to be played at the school located on Tams Drive off Florida Boulevard.

Belaire was among the East Baton Rouge Parish School System schools built in either the 1960s or 1970s that did not have a football stadium factored into its physical plan. At the time, EBR schools used BREC’s Olympia or Memorial stadiums.

The trend has changed through the years. Glen Oaks refurbished its old stadium site and began playing games there two years. Getting a stadium at Belaire has been a labor of love for Belaire Athletic Director Donnell Hyde.

“I’ve been here since 2001, and I’ve seen a lot things,” Hyde said. “This isn’t just about us being able to save some money and hopefully make some money at the gate. It’s about bringing a sense of pride to the school and the community.

“A lot of people had trouble identifying with our school because we didn’t play here. They didn’t follow us when we played at Olympia or Memorial. Now we have a chance to make a positive impact.”

Hyde was told the start-up cost could be as much as $250,000. With the backing of the EBR school system, the Bengals are starting with some basics. What was the practice field has been converted into a game field.

Bleachers were replaced with funds from storm damage. The existing lights that were used for track meets are being repaired. Use of old-style goal posts was approved. The old baseball pressbox was replaced a few years ago so that it faced the track. Home stands were installed in front of the press box. Coca-Cola donated a new scoreboard

Work on the lights, installation of an already-purchased sound system and the addition of a new gate for spectators to enter are set for this week as Hyde continues detailed game planning.

“We know we’ll need more seating eventually, but we want to see how it will go with a few games this year,” Hyde said. “Once we have some games, we’ll know what to expect. Hopefully people in the neighborhood will come out.”

The Bengals’ other home games are with Plaquemine (Oct. 17) and St. Michael the Archangel (Nov. 6). The new stadium has gotten the enthusiastic approval of alums like Mewelde Moore, the former Tulane and NFL running back, and ex-Belaire, Northwestern State and NFL lineman Marcus Spears.

Most importantly, it has the approval of the current Belaire players.

Lineman Julian Williams recalls helping workers with installation of the scoreboard over the summer.

“This is my fourth year at Belaire and I’m very excited about it,” Williams said. “Now people get to watch us play in our own backyard.”

Senior Receiver Timothy Johnson can visualize it.

“I’d like to score the first home touchdown,” Johnson said. “More than that, I’d like to win.”