Fawcett Stadium is the former home of McKinley football, and it defined Canton, Ohio for generations.
In the Beginning
Fawcett Stadium was built from 1937 to 1939 on the site of a former brickyard and natural shale amphitheater. At an estimated total cost of $500,000, the federal government in the form of manpower, the WPA, paid for $400,000 while a school board bond issue paid for the materials.
When the stadium opened on September 17th, 1938, McKinley and Lehman played in the facility's first game, just the north stands were completed. When the south stands were completed for the 1939 season and official dedication of the stadium, Fawcett seated 15,000 guests and was the largest high school stadium in the country at that time.
On the grounds of the facility is a park, aptly named 'Stadium Park'. This park still exists, though became cutoff from the stadium as part of the park was used as the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and also because what is left iwas separated from Fawcett Stadium by the construction of Interstate 77.
Growth and Renovations
Fawcett Stadium steadily grew and has gone through renovations. The first major, modern upgrade to the stadium came in 1974 with the construction of the Earl Rehfus press box atop the south stands. What was most likely the largest press box for a high school stadium at the time, it served the public and press for 34 years.
The next major construction, the expansion of the north stands, was completed in time for the 1981 season and pushed seating capacity to over 23,000 spectators.
In 1997, Fawcett Stadium underwent a major renovation and a name change. Backed by the Canton community, $4.3 million worth of improvements were completed on the stadium. Some of the major improvements included a state-of-the-art artificial playing surface, new locker room facilities, new scoreboard with graphics display screen, new lighting, new sound system, new electrical services, structural repairs, vinyl caps for all wooden seats, and a renovated press box. The newly renovated stadium was also renamed to include the words Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium.
When the Hall of Fame was played as part of Monday Night Football starting in 1998, engineers told ABC Sports, which broadcasts the game, that the stadium needed better lighting for a night game. The NFL responded by paying $365,000 for the addition of five light poles to bring the total to nine.
In 2002, the Sporting News rated Fawcett Stadium the number one high school football venue in America. To make sure that designation was not in vain, the Canton City Schools went on to complete major projects.
First was a video replay board built by Daktronics installed in the northwest corner of the stadium. The second was the replacement of the Astro-Turf surface installed in 1997 with the new, more player-friendly Field-Turf. The third was a new scoreboard by Daktronics. The new board includes a larger video-capable display.
In 2009, Fawcett Stadium opened a new $3.1 million press box. The new press box added additional 295 seats over the old facility, plus upgrades to all the technological infrastructure that runs out of the press box. Chief among the improvements: Dedicated boxes for radio and TV, a room that serves as a studio for the Hall of Fame Game and a camera room for other events, and a state-of-theart production area for the scoreboards, audio, and networking. This pressbox currently serves Tom Benson Stadium.
A total of seven local teams have played their home games at Fawcett Stadium. At the high school level, Fawcett was home to (at one time or another) Canton McKinley, Canton Lehman, Canton Lincoln, Canton Timken, and Canton GlenOak high schools. The stadium also hosted Walsh and Malone universities.
As the facility aged, the structural integrity of the grandstands needed attention. The ramps that lead to seating in the north stands were steep, and not accessible for persons with disabilities. Aging restroom facilities were hard to upgrade adaquately due to legacy plumbing. Emergency repairs became more prevalent and costly. The only way to save Fawcett would have been a major renovation at a cost that was not feasible in relation to the return on that investment. It was then decided by the board of education, Hall of Fame, City of Canton, and Stark County decided a complete teardown would be best for all involved.
The original plan, by local architectural firm Motter and Meadows, called for new grandstads to replace the 1938 structures, creating in essence, a "new" Fawcett Stadium in the same stadium footprint.
With the arrival of David Baker as president of the Hall of Fame, the plan evolved into the stadium being a multipurpose facility with specific designs that would make it a small version of a full-fledged NFL stadium, complete with a custom designed stage section in the north stands to allow for more convenient hosting of the Hall of Fame enshrinement. Baker's team brought in HKS Architects Inc., and Tom Benson Stadium was drawn up.
The Final Season
In 2015, Fawcett Stadium hosted it's final season, amid a changing Canton landscape.
Canton Timken High School closed as a traditional 4-year school, merged with McKinley, and thus 2015 was the first season McKinley was the lone high school in Canton since the 1920s when Lehman High School first held upper classmen and began producing graduating classes.
Along with this change came the beginning of the construction of Benson Stadium. Shortly into the season, the north stands were torn down, and only the south and endzone grandstands could be utilized.
Fawcett Stadium held its final games on Saturday, October 31st, as Walsh University played Northern Michigan, and, of course, the 126th edition of the McKinley - Massillon game was played, with McKinley closing the stadium in a come-from-behind 30-28 win over the Tigers.
During the ensuing week, the turf was torn out, work on the excavating the field began, and Fawcett Stadium was no more.
1937-1939: A 15,000-seat stadium — considered the largest high school stadium in
the country — is built in Canton's West Park (now Stadium Park) at an estimated cost of $500,000. The construction was part of a public works program.
Sept. 17, 1938: Fawcett Stadium opens, according to Repository archives. A game that day between McKinley and Lehman results in a 48-6 victory by the Bulldogs
in the nearly complete stadium.
Sept. 23, 1939: "The new John A. Fawcett Stadium was formally dedicated
Saturday afternoon," The Canton Repository reported in a front-page article published Sept. 24. The McKinley Bulldogs then defeated the Lehman Polar Bears, 31-0.
1962: The first Hall of Fame Game is held at Fawcett Stadium.
September 1963: The Pro Football Hall of Fame opens in Canton. The first enshrinement is held at Fawcett Stadium.
1965: The enshrinement is moved from Fawcett Stadium to the Hall's front steps.
1971: A game from Fawcett is televised nationally for the first time, as the Hall of
Fame Game is broadcast by ABC.
1997: Fawcett Stadium undergoes a major renovation and is renamed to include the words Pro Football Hall of Fame Field.
1998: The Hall of Fame Game airs in prime time for the first time; the NFL spends $365,000 to upgrade lighting.
2002: The enshrinement is moved from the Hall's front steps back to Fawcett Stadium. A grand stage is erected to accommodate the ceremony. The Sporting
News rates Fawcett Stadium as the No. 1 high school football venue in America.
2004: A new playing surface, FieldTurf, is installed.
2009: A state-of-the-art press box is added. The $3.4 million project is funded by support from local foundations, local businesses, national businesses and state,
county and city grants.
2011: The NFL lockout causes the Hall of Fame Game to be canceled.
January 2014: Stephen Perry, then-outgoing leader of the Hall of Fame, and
Dennis Saunier, president and chief executive officer of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, announce plans to lead a fundraising campaign to rebuild the 22,364-seat stadium.
Feb. 23, 2015: Canton City Board of Education approves renaming the school district's Fawcett Stadium in honor of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson
after Benson donated $10 million toward stadium renovations.
May 19, 2015: Hall of Fame Village planners release a financial study that targets
Benson Stadium for $80 million in upgrades, including completely rebuilt stands, lowering the field, a stage area for concerts and many more modern amenities. Project is expected to be completed by August 2017.
Sept. 10, 2015: Demolition crews begin dismantling the north-side bleachers.
Due to construction, fans at football games hosted by McKinley, Walsh University and Malone University are limited to the south-side stands and the two end zone bleachers throughout the 2015 season.
Oct. 31, 2015: McKinley renews its rivalry with the Massillon Tigers and closes
Fawcett Stadium with a 30-28 victory over Massillon in the 126th edition of the storied high school football rivalry. Following the game, crews remove the turf, northeast corner scoreboard and end zone bleachers as demolition resumes on the south side.