Football in Texas. It’s like Whataburger, Buc-ee’s, and the Alamo…it is a Texas institution. High school football transcends; it draws communities together and paves the way for a player’s next step. The National Football League is filled with players from the Lone Star State. The stadiums they play in have storied histories as well. A handful of stadiums throughout Texas have held their own and passed beyond one single player, one amazing play, and one championship; these hold the soul of Texas high school football heritage.
R. Jones Stadium: El Paso
Opened in 1916, R. R. Jones Stadium, home to the El Paso Tigers, was the country’s first major stadium constructed out of concrete. Known locally as “The Lady on the Hill”, she is situated on the Franklin Mountains foothills and was rated as one of America’s best high school football stadiums by USA Today. Overlooking America’s border with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as well as downtown El Paso, semicircular steps lead away from the school’s main entrance to the playing field.
The stadium, which is surrounded by the school, hosted the first three Sun Bowl games and saw General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing ride his horse in to commemorate the end of World War One. Jones Stadium was rebuilt, due to crumbling concrete, to its original specifications in 1993.
Ratliff Stadium: Odessa
Serving as the home field for both the Odessa High Broncos and the Permian High Panthers, the stadium once called the “Epicenter of Texas High School Football” opened in 1982. Hosting a number of high profile games in West Texas, USA Today, in October 2001, named Ratliff Stadium as one of the Top Ten high school football stadiums in the country.
When H. G. Bissinger wrote Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream in 1990, he chronicled the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team, as they made their run for the Texas state football championship. In 2004, when Bissinger’s book was adapted into a movie, Ratliff Stadium was utilized during filming for most of the gridiron activity. Since 2015, Ratliff has also served as the home stadium for the University of Texas of the Permian Basin Falcons.
Mustang Bowl: Sweetwater
Constructed from concrete by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1939, many in West Texas say there is no better place to watch high school football on a fall Friday night than the Mustang Bowl in Sweetwater. The tiered concrete embankments around the end zones can seat 9,500 fans with an additional 7,500 in the bleachers.
Older than most stadiums still being utilized, the community has continued to maintain and modernize the Sweetwater High School football facilities, continuously improving them as a modern venue for games. Originally, those bleachers were made of wood sitting directly on the grass. This was changed in 1972 to metal bleachers on concrete.
When you descend into the stadium under the scoreboard, the history of Texas High School is all around. Two local football legends have been enshrined at the stadium as well. Sammy Baugh, who played for Sweetwater from 1930-1932, has his number retired while Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, has been honored for his feats as well. Both are enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Rogan Field: San Saba
When you walk through the entrance to San Saba’s Rogan Field, you are welcomed by a large “Welcome to The Graveyard” sign. They aren’t kidding. Rogan Field is named for Dr. J. D. Rogan, who owned the property and donated it for use as the city’s first cemetery. By 1878, it was no longer being used and the Rogan family eventually regained control of the land.
In 1934, family members with interred loved ones were urged to consider exhumation and reburial elsewhere. Many did, but several remained. The following year, the family sold the property to the school district in 1935 for only $10, which transformed the graveyard into a playing field. Players and fans are apparently not the only activity taking place here. Community members have mentioned that while most of the bodies were removed from the site; strange things continued to happen, such as players randomly tripping and falling, or human remains being revealed. In fact, that may be the very reason the team will never install a turf field, those require digging seven feet into the ground. At that depth, you start finding the graves.
Alamo Stadium: San Antonio
Located in San Antonio’s Monte Vista Historic District, the limestone Alamo Stadium was completed by the WPA in 1940. Known as “The Rock Pile”, it was constructed on top of an abandoned rock quarry. Alamo Stadium is also decorated with numerous tile murals depicting life in San Antonio, that were produced by the local WPA Arts and Crafts Division. The stadium is home to several San Antonio high school football and soccer teams, as well as a variety of other local sports teams. With a seating capacity of 18,500, it is Texas’ third largest high school stadium.
Sanderson Eagles Stadium: Sanderson
This is not your average football stadium. While the rest of the stadiums here host 11-man football teams, Sanderson’s Eagles Stadium is home to 6-man football. Generally played by high schools in rural areas, this brand of football serves as an alternative means for small high schools to field a football team. Not only is the play different, but you’ll notice this stadium stands out as well. There is no fancy pressbox, no video board, no field markings, and the capacity seats 710 people. Nicknamed the Pit, it was built for flood control and can be filled with water.
Tomato Bowl: Jacksonville
Jacksonville’s Tomato Bowl stands today as one of Texas’ last remaining downtown stadiums. Located on the hilltop site of East Commerce Street, the stadium earned its nickname as Jacksonville was then known as the “Tomato Capital of the World”. Construction began in early 1940 by the Works Progress Administration. Surrounding the stadium is a wall, both constructed out of local iron ore rock (also known as giraffe rock), which was delivered to the site by residents. While improvements included new seating, dressing rooms, a state-of-the-art press box and a turf field, the historic stadium walls and exterior were preserved. (Read more in the Authentic Texas Fall 2020 issue.)