The score was final – ACU 24, Houston Baptist University 3 – but the Wildcats weren’t finished. They still had to thank their fans.
With arms raised, they ran to the east side of the stadium and returned high-fives from their peers, who leaned over the railing to get closer to the student-athletes. The Wildcats then headed north to greet the children playing on the berm before turning south and continuing the high-fives with fans on the home side.
It was more than a victory lap; it was the culmination of years of dreaming, planning and working to create a home for Wildcat football. More importantly, it represented the main goal behind Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium: to bring the ACU community together.
“A sold-out stadium and the team celebrating the win with their fellow students made for a beautiful moment,” said Craig Fisher (’92), assistant vice president of alumni relations and university relations. “It’s one that will be remembered by many for years to come.”
A new era of Gamedays began at Abilene Christian this past weekend with the opening of Wildcat Stadium and the beginning of traditions such as Wildcat Country Tailgating in the Campus Mall. An unprecedented number of students, alumni, friends, parents, faculty and staff – more than Gameday organizers had anticipated – turned out to celebrate Opening Weekend, first with a Chapel session in the stadium on Friday morning, followed by a free concert by rock band NEEDTOBREATHE that night.
“I enjoyed seeing students there, laughing and singing along and having fun, and seeing them earlier yesterday on the field and in the stands for Chapel, praising God and creating memories,” ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) said at a brunch honoring donors to the stadium Saturday morning, including April (Bullock ’89) and Mark (’86) Anthony.
“Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium was made for moments like those and for what we’ll experience later when the Wildcats take the field for the first game. It was made to be a place where students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, friends and neighbors can be drawn into closer community with one another. From student-athletes to members of Big Purple, from fans who come from out of town or down the street, Wildcat Stadium is for everyone.”
Wildcat Country Tailgating officially began at 3 p.m. Saturday; the first fan was in place by 9 a.m. with the rest ready to have fun by about 1 p.m. Tents dotted the Campus Mall and beyond, from Moody Coliseum to Zellner Hall, with everything from social clubs to local churches represented.
Games, food on grills, dogs in ACU gear, friends and families relaxing – it was a welcome sight for the tired eyes of Gameday organizers including Fisher, Samantha Adkins (’01), talent management specialist for human resources, and Jennifer Ellison (’04), director of university events. Their committee spent more than a year planning for not only the big weekend, but for the new culture around game days at home.
“I am so thankful our alumni and students – thousands of them – showed up to tailgate and make a college football gameday experience that we have wanted to have at ACU for a very long time,” Adkins said. “They created an atmosphere that rivals college gameday experiences across the country. This also was a great experience for our faculty and staff from different areas of campus to come together with common goals and bless others in the ACU community.”
Two and a half hours before kickoff, fans lined a path for the Wildcats as they walked to the stadium, and later, the Big Purple Band and ACU cheerleaders performed and led the way to the game for everyone. There, the energy never wavered as fans of all ages enjoyed the new facility and its perks, from gourmet concessions to seeing themselves on the “dance cam” on the Wessel Scoreboard.
Senior running back De’Andre Brown, from Lewisville, Texas, scored the first touchdown at Wildcat Stadium.
“That has been a goal of mine since there was just a pile of dirt out here where the stadium is now,” Brown told acusports.com. “I’ve been thinking about that touchdown for two years.”
“The win capped off an amazing day,” he said. “There was a great Gameday feeling on the campus from the morning all the way through the end of the game. Honestly, we didn’t know we had that many people that cared about us and loved us and wanted to come out and watch us play. It was terrific.”
“The grand opening of Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium was absolutely magical,” said Lee De Leon, director of athletics. “I’ve had numerous donors, alumni and fans tell me how much we exceeded their expectations and created memories that will last a lifetime. I hope we’ve now changed the culture and set a new standard of excellence for athletic events on this campus moving forward.”
After their win and their time greeting fans, the Wildcats returned to the field to pray as a team alongside head coach Adam Dorrel, De Leon, Schubert and the Anthonys. The night ended with a 12-minute fireworks show that left fans in awe.
“From beginning to end,” Fisher said, “the grand opening weekend marks a special time in ACU history that people will talk about for generations.”