If passing by the stadium construction site on University Crescent and seeing a new section of the stadium going up makes you a tad giddy, you’re definitely not alone. The new stadium will be a considerable upgrade for the Blue Bombers and their fans, but no one is more excited — and appreciative — than the coaches and student athletes who comprise the Bisons football program.
“From what we have now it’s a drastic change,” said fourth-year Bison slotback Stu Schollaardt. “It will be state-of-the-art, the top facility in CIS football across the nation.”
The current University Stadium was built for the 1967 Pan-American Games, upgraded to include the 400-metre track that encircles the football field for Winnipeg’s second opportunity to host the Pan-American Games in 1999. Still months away from completion, the structure at the stadium construction site already dwarfs the U of M’s 40-year-old stadium, as the east side stands steadily take shape.
“Every time after classes, I walk over to practice and watch as it gets more and more completed,” said first-year Bison running back Nic Demski. “It’s pretty exciting.”
It’s no surprise that Demski and other first-year players are getting excited about the new stadium.
“That was a big part of my recruiting with out-of-town athletes and in-province athletes: bringing the athlete and their family over to the site, getting a tour from the project manager Mike Clynes,” said Bisons football head coach Brian Dobie. “We had the Demskis over and that was a big night for me; he was our top recruit.”
This is Dobie’s sixteenth year as the head coach for the Bisons football program, so if anyone knows how significant of an impact the new stadium will have on the Bison football program moving forward, it’s him.
“We’re getting a fantastic locker room, an athletic therapy room, our own weight room, our own meeting rooms, coaches rooms, offices — all separate from the Bombers — and we will literally sit side by side with the Bombers, separated by a ten foot hallway.”
Sharing the state-of-the-art stadium facilities with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers should also provide Bison student-athletes with a significant morale boost.
“Think not only about the pride our players will have in our facilities, but also think of the culture that will be affected,” Dobie explains. “For every day of their football lives and university lives, they will be immersed in a professional culture; not just with a professional facility, but sitting right next door to a pro team.”
With only two more home games at the old stadium remaining on the Bisons’ schedule, Dobie has high hopes the team will be playing in front of bigger student crowds in 2012.
“I would expect and hope that we would be impacted initially with people coming in to check out the new stadium,” said Dobie. “There are about 28,000 students on campus at the University of Manitoba. I know we’re a commuter campus; I get that. Nevertheless, I think with the new stadium there will be a lot of university students that will hopefully take that as an extension of themselves and take ownership in that.”
“It’s their university, it’s their campus and they’ll take some pride in it.”
There is another demographic Dobie hopes will come check out the Bisons: Blue Bomber season ticket holders. Canad Inns Stadium and University Stadium are located at opposite ends of the city, giving local football fans an excuse not to check out Bison games. But once the new stadium is game-day ready for next season, Dobie is hoping that Bomber season ticket holders give the Bisons a fair shake.
“Football is football, and it’s a great brand of football in the CIS. They’re Bomber season ticket holders for a reason: they love football and they love the Bombers. I hope they will also love the Bisons.”