West Ottawa High School’s new stadium is set to open next month

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TWP HOLLAND. – Friday nights will be very different for Panthers fans this fall.

The lavish stadium in Ottawa West is set to open for the first day of pre-season football camp next month and should be ready to accept a full crowd for the team’s home opener football on September 1. Walking around the stadium, which is still under construction, it’s a far cry from the former home of Panthers athletics.

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After:A glimpse of the new Ottawa West Sports Complex

While Panther Stadium was state of the art when it opened in the 1960s, it has since seen the passing of time. It’s been evident for some time and that’s why in 2019 money was allocated for the project as part of a community-voted $98 million mileage which also includes a new elementary school and a performing arts center for the district. The stadium itself costs between $20 million and $25 million, according to athletic director Bill Kennedy.

“It’s thanks to the community, if we don’t get the votes, this stuff just doesn’t happen,” Kennedy said. “I like to think that our community has come out and supported the bond and what we come up with will be a real sense of pride in the community.”

Although there are still some final touches to be made, mainly the installation of the grass playing surfaces, it is already obvious that the inhabitants of the school district will be proud of the installation. The new digs have a football stadium and an adjoining football stadium, each equipped with dressing rooms for visiting and home teams. Visitor locker rooms rival those at the Big House in Ann Arbor or several other Big Ten facilities.

Work on the new West Ottawa Sports Complex nears completion on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at West Ottawa High School.  The multi-sport facility is part of a $98 million bond offering that also includes a new performing arts center.

The locker rooms at the house don’t quite live up to the luxurious bedroom the Wolverines call home, but they do rival those at the new Hope College facility that just opened last season. An anonymous donation even allowed the Panthers football team to have lockers identical to those of the Flying Dutchmen when the project is finished.

Apart from the locker rooms, the two back-to-back courts will make life much easier for student-athletes. They will no longer have to wait for a team to finish training before entering the field themselves. Perhaps most importantly, they won’t have to worry about getting to Harbor Lights Middle School, where Panther Stadium and the football field used to be, to play, instead they can just walk out of their classrooms and out in the field. Both playing surfaces will also be lined for lacrosse, so boys’ and girls’ teams can practice or even play games at the same time.

“Now we’re bringing everything together on one campus, we’ve been so spread out,” Kennedy said. “…Here, the people I’m thinking of our sports coaches, our site supervisors, everything is there, the infrastructure is there, it will certainly make our job easier.”

A new 18 x 30 foot video sign dominates the new Ottawa West Stadium on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at Ottawa West High School.  The multi-sport facility is part of a $98 million bond offering that also includes a new performing arts center.

Not only will this make life easier for everyone involved in West Ottawa athletics, but it will also provide a much higher level of comfort for those in one of the 6,500 grandstands. The stadium features a concession stand with nearly triple the windows and functions of that of Panther Stadium and has two gas stoves as well as fryers to feed the fans. The stadium also has a patio with tables where fans can sit and watch the game from a new vantage point just behind the end zone.

Using the Panther Stadium toilets could see patrons wait an hour in the small facility alone, but now there are toilets scattered throughout the venue making it unlikely fans will miss much of the action when nature calls.

But the biggest improvements will be for the kids who go out into the field. Even stepping out of the locker room, the whole stadium has a true collegiate athletics vibe. The complex has two 18×30 video panels, one for each pitch, LED light screens that the contractors said they had never installed in a secondary school before.

It’s practically every high school athlete’s dream to continue playing their sport at the college level. Not everyone gets the chance to do this, so Kennedy and the rest of the design team wanted to make sure everyone got as close to a high school college gaming experience as possible. Being part of this atmosphere will also contribute to the growth of athletics programs in Ottawa West.

Work on the new West Ottawa Sports Complex nears completion on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at West Ottawa High School.  The multi-sport facility is part of a $98 million bond offering that also includes a new performing arts center.

“I’m so excited for this, but I think more than high school student-athletes, it’s [the younger kids]”, Kennedy said. “We’re going to play a night of college football here where they get a locker in the college locker room, come out through the tunnel … trying to develop this culture where the kids would say ‘why wouldn’t I not play here?'”

Results on the pitch haven’t always been there for the Panthers, with the football team having won no games in the last three seasons, but they hope the opening of the new complex will mark the start of a new era in West Ottawa Athletics. However, even if the results do not appear immediately, one thing is certain: the stadium will exist for a long time.

Kennedy and the rest of the administration hope this monumental moment in Panthers history will see the community at large rally behind the school. They want to create a real Friday Night Lights atmosphere in Holland and they think they finally have the ability.

Work on the new West Ottawa Sports Complex nears completion on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at West Ottawa High School.  The multi-sport facility is part of a $98 million bond offering that also includes a new performing arts center.

The old stadium has countless hundreds of memories for the latest generation, but now they hope the new complex will pave the way for a million more memories for the next generation of Panthers.

“Panther Stadium has done an amazing job for over 60 years, created a lot of great memories there,” Kennedy said. “Now for our future athletes, this is the house where I think it will be quite easy to make memories.”

—Contact Associate Sports Editor Will Kennedy at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ByWillKennedy and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.

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