Ever been to a football game at the Cotton Bowl? How about a NASCAR experience at Texas Motor Speedway?
If so, you know just about everything you need to know about Southern Bleacher, located in Graham, the county seat of Young County about 60 miles south of Wichita Falls. Southern Bleacher Company, with roots dating to 1946, installed the bleachers at both those famous locations, plus Texas Tech, Texas A&M, SMU, TCU, the University of Houston, and many other campuses.
When Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) opened, its 150,000-plus seats marked a milestone for Southern Bleacher that still stands. “The largest project to date was TMS, which opened in 1997,” said Sarah Lundgren, communication and marketing director for Southern Bleacher. “At the time, it was the largest grandstand built in a single phase.”
The story behind Southern Bleacher and how the company ended up in Graham is the story of two determined men and of an idea they wouldn’t let go. Jim Geurin was a high school band director in Van Buren, Arkansas, when he decided his high school needed bleachers. The school superintendent, Virgil Coleman, got on board. In 1946, the two men contacted the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas to draw up a simple design. That summer, Geurin and Coleman put together their first set of bleachers.
Eventually, Geurin moved to Texas, while Coleman stayed in Arkansas. Southern Bleacher had a brief stay in Lubbock before Geurin moved the company to Graham and his daughter, Jo Ann, joined the business.
Before long, Southern Bleacher was building stadiums as far afield as Oregon and Washington. Geurin died in 1988, nine years before the mega-seat Texas Motor Speedway became the company’s largest project. Today, Geurin’s grandsons, Garrett and Wyatt Pettus, own the company, making Southern Bleacher a third-generation business with more than 160 employees.
High school football, baseball and softball stadiums account for most of the projects that Southern Bleacher builds. But there have been some unusual requests, too.
“For example,” Lundgren said, “the most unusual grandstand was for tractor pulling in Union Grove, Wisconsin, at the Racine County Fairgrounds.”
Other oddities include party decks at the turns at Texas Motor Speedway and the basketball arena at Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, which was pictured in the final scene of the movie “Hoosiers.” And, to top it off, Southern Bleacher built the outfield seating behind the ivy at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
Today, Southern Bleacher is the largest bleacher manufacturer in the United States. For a long time in the beginning, Southern Bleacher was the underdog in the industry, even in Texas, where two other companies ruled. But Jim Geurin wasn’t content with being in third place, as noted on the company website:
“From one little high school bleacher in 1946, his underdog had done good.”