Thanks to the vision and perseverance of former president Dr. Cleophas O’Harra, the stadium and field named in his honor has been serving the university and area schools for sixty years.
Even before O’Harra Stadium was built, the South Dakota School of Mines 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 west river high schools with a quarter- mile cinder track and a 120- yard straight- away.
Although the building of a gymnasium in 1928 fulfilled part of President O’Harra’s plans for the school’s athletic development, he also envisioned an athletic field and a stadium. The School of Mines obtained an open area southeast of the campus in 1930 and began work on clearing the land.
Sigma Tau fraternity pledges mapped the land and designed improvements for developing the field. President O’Harra declared a campus holiday on May 18, 1931, for students to bring their tools and work on leveling the land. By the end of the day, the students had leveled the land enough so that work could begin on building the stadium. Good soil was hauled to the campus and slag ( residue from smelting mineral ores) was used to fill the excavation site.
According Guy March’s recollection ( 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… We 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, pp. 54- 55)
With the help of Works Project Administration ( WPA) laborers and a $ 50,000 WPA grant, development continued from 1932 through 1936. The Alumni Association raised the remaining funds to finish the field by contacting the school’s 750 alumni through meetings held in 26 alumni regions around the country. With the successful fundraising drive, the $ 132,000 O’Harra Memorial Stadium was dedicated on September 16, 1938.
Black Hills businesses and government agencies also provided valuable help in completing the stadium field. Northwestern Railway Company donated cinders for the track and Homestake Mining Corporation gave 4,000 feet of cable for a running track fence. The Forest Service allowed timber to be harvested from the Black Hills National Forest for guard railings and posts. Government officials authorized limestone to be quarried from federal land for “ rip- rapping the upper tier” of the stadium field.
Surrounded on three sides by a natural horseshoe bowl, the stadium field was based on a unique concept. Three terraces that were graded into the hill created parking spaces for 250 cars from which fans could watch the games. This increased the bleacher seating capacity 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 enhanced the aesthetic value of the landscape.” ( SDSM& T Centennial: An Illustrated History, 1885- 1985, p. 74)
The Hardrockers won their first football game on O’Harra Field, played on the night the stadium was dedicated, by beating the South Dakota State Jackrabbits 18- 7. The Hardrockers were one of only five teams in the nation that year with six straight victories.
Over the years O’Harra 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 the need arose for expanded seating and enhanced facilities to accommodate the crowds attending O’Harra events, the spirit of campus- community collaboration was vividly demonstrated. The $ 1.8 million project modernized the O’Harra facilities and expanded the bleacher capacity to nearly 3,500 seats. This was accomplished through the participation of the Rapid City School District ($ 600,000), State of South Dakota/ SDSM& T ($ 300,000); the City of Rapid City ($ 280,000); SDSM& T Alumni ($ 190,000); Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce ($ 100,000); Pennington County ($ 30,000) and the SDSM& T Foundation ($ 250,000 loan).
As a result of this joint campus- community endeavor, O’Harra Field will continue to host athletic events for area schools and SDSM& T for many years. As O’Harra Stadium marks its 60th anniversary of service, the support of students, alumni and community members in building and renovating this important facility serves as an inspiration for further collaboration between SDSM& T and the community to benefit future generations.
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