O’Harra Stadium and Field Celebrates 60 Years of Service to SDSM& T and Area Schools
Thanks to the vision and perseverance of former president Dr. Cleophas O’Harra, the stadium, football field and track named in his honor has been serving the university and area schools for sixty years. O’Harra Memorial Stadium was dedicated on September 16, 1938.
Prior to O’Harra Stadium and Field being built, SDSM& T already was actively involved with hosting track meets for area high schools. In 1920 the school sponsored the first of 13 annual field and track meets for all west river high schools. A track was constructed ‘ just south of the college buildings” that provided a quarter- mile cinder track and a 120- yard straight- away.
An important milestone in advancing the cause of athletics at the School of Mines was the formation of the “ M” Club in 1922. The club members assisted at all athletic events, including the high school track meets.
Although the building of a gymnasium fulfilled part of President O’Harra’s plan for an active athletic program at the School of Mines, he also had a vision for an athletic field and a stadium. Based on the advice of a landscape artist named Phelps Myman, the School obtained an open area southeast of the campus on which to build an athletic field.
In 1930 the School of Mines obtained the area and began to clear the land. Sigma Tau pledges were assigned to map the area and design improvements with goal in mind of developing a field. On May 18, 1931, President O’Harra declared a holiday for students to bring their tools and work on leveling the land for the stadium. By the end of the day the students had done enough work on leveling that land that work could begin on building the stadium. In preparing the stadium site, good soil was hauled to the campus and slag was used to fill the excavation site.
According to the recollection of Guy March in the November 1967 Hardrock, “ the field… was the location of ‘ Hop” Roberts’ pig feeding area— their feed being garbage from Rapid City— with the tin cans building up year after year. One afternoon Gail and I looked the area over. I stepped off in Boy Scout fashion what I thought would make a football field. Among the four- foot weeds we stuck in laths with a white cloth tied to the end of each. Then we climbed Smelter Hill and from this spot we thought we saw this football field with a track which has at last been completed. We next suggested to Dr. O’Harra that we hold a field day for both faculty and students, and this we organized. That day they moved a mountain of cans, slag, brush… and filled the ponds.” ( SDSM& T Centennial: An Illustrated History, 1885- 1985, p. 54- 55)
The following year the project was continued with the arrival of the first Works Project Administration ( WPA) laborers. The WPA worked on the football site from 1932 through 1936. In October of 1936, a WPA grant of $ 50,000 was received to complete the project. Because the grant only provided for unskilled labor, the Alumni Association decided to raise the necessary funds to hire the skilled labor to finish the field. The Alumni Association’s fundraising committee contacted 750 alumni to ask for donations. Meetings were held in each of the 26 alumni regions throughout the country to raise money for the stadium and finishing the field.
On September 16, 1938, the $ 132, 000 O’Harra Memorial Stadium was dedicated. The Northwestern Railway Company donated cinders for the track and Homestake Mining Corporation provided 4,000 feet of half- inch cable for the fence around the running track. Black Hills National Forest authorities allowed lumber to be taken from the forest for guard railings and posts. In addition, Federal officials gave permission to “ quarry limestone from government land for rip- rapping the upper tier.”
Based on a unique concept, the stadium field was surrounded on three sides by a natural horseshoe bowl. Three terraces were graded into the banks so sports events could be viewed from the approximately 250 automobile parking spaces. Viewing from the automobiles allowed additional bleacher seating for spectators.
“ The natural bowl had been used for smelter slag, had served as a home for frogs and pigs, and it was a city refuse area for many years. The football field not only was a needed addition for the school, it also enhance the aesthetic value of the landscape.” ( SDSM& T Centennial: An Illustrated History, 1885- 1985, p. 74)
The first football game played on the field, on the night the stadium was dedicated, was a Hardrocker triumph. The School of Mines team beat South Dakota State Jackrabbits 18- 7. The Hardrockers had a very successful season that year, being one of only five in the nation with six straight victories. ( p. 75)
Over the years O’Harra Stadium and Field has hosted many football games and track meets for area high schools. That tradition continues today. Rapid City Central and Stevens High Schools both play their football games at SDSM& T. In addition track meets for area junior high and high school teams are held each spring.
When expanded seating and enhanced facilities became necessary to accommodate the crowds at O’Harra events, the spirit of collaboration between campus and community was unequivocally demonstrated. A fundraising campaign to modernize the O’Harra facilities and double (?) the stadium seating capacity was undertaken. The project, which was spearheaded by John Brewer (?* need to check on this), raised $???
This joint SDSM& T- community endeavor ensured that O’Harra Stadium and Field will continue to host athletic events for both the university and area schools for many years into the future. As O’Harra Stadium marks its 60th anniversary of service to SDSM& T and the community, the vision of Dr. O��Harra, as well as the students’ work and alumni support involved with completing the project, serves as an inspiration to us all.
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.