Courtesy JOE JOHNSTON
The smack of Friday night football pads, along with cheerleaders and marching bands, were heard for the first time at Will Rogers Stadium, home of the Ropers, on Sept. 1 when the Ropers played the Nathan Hale Rangers, a rivalry that dates back to 1959.
The stadium is a dream come true for generations of Roper athletes and their fans. The new stadium is designed to reflect the school’s original 1939 facade, which placed Will Rogers High School on the National Register of Historic Places and led Architectural Digest magazine to name it Oklahoma’s most beautiful school. The walkway and patio are a path through Roper history with engraved bricks and benches dedicated to teachers, friends, teams, and loved ones.
Festivities began with a ribbon cutting on the field led by Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist and Athletic Director Gil Cloud, who played football at Tulsa Will Rogers. State Senator David Rader, also a Tulsa Will Rogers alum and former TU Head Football Coach, led the coin toss. Other invited guests included Principal Nicolette Dennis, Roper Athletic Director Krystel Markwardt, TPS board members, TPS Executive Director of Bond Projects and Energy Management, Chris Hudgins, and his predecessor Bob LaBass, a Tulsa Will Rogers alum, and former Superintendent Keith Ballard, under whose administration the stadium project was started.
This is the first time in Tulsa Will Rogers’ 80-year history that the campus has included a home stadium, as students previously played home games at TU’s Skelly Stadium Webster and Booker T. Washington High Schools. The new facility accommodates Will Rogers High School and Junior High School as well as Nathan Hale High School and Junior High for football, soccer and track. Will Rogers High School, at 3909 E. 5th Pl., was built under the Works Progress Administration and named for Oklahoma’s Favorite Son. A bond issue passed by a margin of 80 percent by Tulsa voters in 2015 provided financing for the project. According to Athletic Director Cloud, the addition of the stadium will ease the entire district’s scheduling and reduce the number of Thursday night varsity games.
The 12,000-square foot, three-story stadium was designed by Sparks-Reed Architects with Crossland Construction as general contractor. It features a ticket booth, stadium seating, home and visitor locker rooms, concession area, weight room, a sports medicine area, press box, hospitality area, and offices for coaches and the athletic director. It’s all located 20 feet above the playing surface, Henry Franka, Jr. Field, named in honor of Roper student-athlete Henry Franka, who passed away in 1946. Tulsa Will Rogers’ enduring heritage is further honored in the electronic scoreboard, funded by an anonymous alumnus in honor of his 1961 classmate Larry Sterne.
COVID health protocols were followed for the opening, with temperature checks, pre-packaged food service, and a 50 percent capacity limit on ticket sales. The opening festivities were supported by the Will Rogers All-Sports Boosters, Johnnie Egbert, chair, and the Will Rogers High School Community Foundation, Richard Miller, chair.