STOCKTON — A fire in the concession stand/press box at Stockton High School’s football stadium caused the Tigers’ season-opening Friday night game to be moved to Hill City.
The fire was reported by a Stockton police officer who saw the flames while on patrol around 11:15 p.m. Thursday, SHS Principal Shelly Swayne said Friday morning.
An electric range in the concession area of the metal building was determined as the fire’s origin, but Swayne could not say if the fire started because of an electrical issue or if the range had been left on.
“Our main focus is everyone is OK,” she said.
The building and its contents are a complete loss. Friday morning, charred remains of concession equipment sat outside the building, including a refrigerator unit that still had bottled drinks inside.
Nex-Tech also suffered a loss in the fire, as the communications company had set up equipment to broadcast the game in the second-floor press box Thursday afternoon.
“We don’t like the situation, but we’re happy no kids were involved, no community members were involved. The rest is just stuff,” she said.
Because of the debris and concern for public safety, as well as the fact the lights and scoreboard controls were in the building, the game had to be moved.
The only hitch in the plan was the field of their opponents, the Trego Community High School Golden Eagles, was not ready for play. A severe thunderstorm Aug. 10 pounded WaKeeney with large hail and heavy winds that blew the press box from its perch at the top of the stadium seating.
Trego Community Athletic Director Jeremy Samson said the press box there is under construction.
“We are on schedule that we won’t miss hosting any of our varsity games,” he said.
The Golden Eagles first home game will be this Friday against South Gray.
Friday’s Stockton-Trego game was moved to Hill City. The Ringnecks opened their season Friday at Spearville.
Stockton USD 271 Athletic Director Clint Bedore said he hoped the remnants of the burned building can be cleaned up and the stadium ready to use for Thursday’s middle school game against the Golden Eagles.
“As soon as we can get the lights hooked up and get the scoreboard ready, I think we’ll be able to,” he said.
Still, not being able to play the season opener at home was a disappointment for many.
“One of the things that brings joy to small communities is the ability to rally around a football team,” said Tiger Assistant Coach Nick Talbott. “So we’re going to have to do that on the road a little bit.”
The team’s three senior players were looking forward to the home game, especially Aaron Hahn. This is his first year playing football, and Friday morning he had a test to take for a college-level math class.
“I wasn’t really too focused on football at first, but now my mind’s going back into the game,” the wide receiver said.
He learned of the fire Thursday night when his father woke him because the power was out, and then a neighbor sent him a picture through Snapchat.
“I got disappointed because it was going to be my first game, and just running out at home and seeing everybody in the stand, and being on the field for the first time,” he said.
Trey Kuhlmann, a tight end, lives just down the street from the stadium and said the sirens woke him.
“My first thought was the school was on fire,” he said.
Then he saw a video of the fire.
“I saw the fire and was like, ‘We aren’t recovering from that,’ ” he said.
But he still had some optimism, knowing Swayne and Bedore probably already were at work figuring out a plan for the game.
Offensive center Cody Odle lives outside of town and didn’t know about the fire until he got to school.
“I was all excited, ready to go for the game tonight, and then I walked into school and everybody looked at me like, ‘Not gonna happen,’ ” he said.
Odle said it was a big shock, but he’s grateful the game went on.
“I think we’re all glad we have a supportive staff that has worked really hard (Friday) to get us to be able to play tonight,” he said.