What a dump.
That’s what Bette Davis would’ve uttered if she’d walked through one of the three famous arches at Greensboro’s World War Memorial Stadium for the NC A&T University double-header on May 7. Frankly, it’s what I thought.
This should arrive as no surprise to many Greensboro residents. Saying this tiny, 90-year-old jewel box “has seen better days” understates the problem to an insulting degree. As a descriptor, “decaying” hits too on-the-nose; “decrepit” ignores a major factor of the cause. Due to both age and neglect, the stadium is dilapidated; War Memorial has, since placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, become a ruin making the Colosseum seem gracefully aged and intact.
The stadium’s beautiful façade has partially crumbled and exhibits black water stains. The concrete grandstand has eroded far worse than the façade, and among its rows and aisles lay scattered piles of dry-rotted peanut shells, sunflower seeds, corn cobs and animal turds. Weeds and moss grow alongside the detritus. A hideous shade of gray shrouds most exterior surfaces, and only partially: The peeling paint reveals past coats or the brick underneath. The elements have rusted many of the green, yellow and red folding seats – some from Philadelphia’s legendary Shibe Park – rendering them unfit for sitting.
Not that it mattered to me. I situated myself in the hunching wooden press box, which has been no better cared for than the rest of the stadium.
The other cushy Division I-school press boxes I’ve had the opportunity to occupy — some chockful of sophisticated broadcasting equipment — made War Memorial’s press box seem like a cell block.
Four cubbies divide the press shack. Admittedly, the interior paint has withstood neglect better than anything else in the stadium, but the colors — red, white and Columbia blue — seem more befitting of the bygone Houston Oilers.
Compliments end there.
The speckled grey carpet in my corner hovel held a motley array of debris: More sunflower shells, mustard packets, napkins, plastic drink tops, plasticware wrappers, a McDonald’s bag, a stray dryer sheet, one green Skittle and copious dirt. Piles of cables wrapped upon themselves like a ball of mating garter snakes. Old tape had incorporated itself into the surface of the rickety scoring table, which also held a disconnected landline, an obsolete mixing board, a laptop-sized tape recorder, a Walkman cassette player and — weirdly enough — a pair of tweezers. Brown dust caked all but that most curious item. A&T’s Associate Athletic Director of Communications Brian Holloway doubled as announcer in the adjacent hidey-hole, the mic breaking as the carelessly draped XLR transmitted his stats outside to the portable PA system. An inoperable scoreboard necessitated his presence. There was no air conditioning, a fact ameliorated by spring breeze steadily blowing through the mildew-lined windows, stirring dead hornets in the sills.
And finally — also no big deal — I had no chair.
War Memorial’s condition is deplorable, but you can’t lay full blame on A&T. Sure, they’ve been a major tenant since the ’20s — first for football, then baseball beginning in the ’30s. But since the Greensboro Bats abandoned the stadium in 2004, the city has owned and ostensibly maintained the property.
The city of Greensboro and the university have been discussing transferring the property for years. A&T plans to dramatically renovate the park, namely restoring the towers, walls and façade; updating all plumbing, concessions facilities and locker rooms; removing the added-on canopy roof and replacing two-thirds of the seating with grass berms. According to the university, it’ll take time — five to six years — and oodles of money: Upwards of $6 million, with $1.5 million pledged by Greensboro and $2 million requested from the state. But repairs are necessary.
For now, the Aggies play the hand they’ve held for decades.
One thing remains in decent shape, and it’s the only thing that really matters: The field.
Holloway said the team feels a sense of pride in the park and maintains the field with love. Indeed, after the first game against the Savannah State University Tigers — a 4-3 Aggie victory — incoming rain threatened the field, and the Aggies hastily draped an enormous tarp over the diamond. Following the delay, it was again the players who removed the tarp and reset the infield for the second game.
And despite its uninviting accommodations, people still visit War Memorial to cheer on their diamond dogs.
After Holloway had to vacate his post to attend a track meet, two innings passed unannounced. Former A&T reliever Jonathan Smith, watching from the stands, popped into the press box and grabbed the mic, introducing batters and keeping tabs on the score.
“This is Division I,” Smith explained. “We gotta have someone calling the game, especially since there’s no scoreboard.”
He did fine, kidding around with friends, shouting bombastic calls off-mic. He even conspired to have “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” sung during the sixth-inning stretch — performed by yours truly.
After Aggie right-hander Tevelle Clark finished his complete, seven-inning game, aided by a final line-out directly into first baseman Kyle Clary’s glove, Smith announced, “That’s the game! Your Aggies win, 6-3… wait, 6-4.”
Yeah, War Memorial Stadium is a dump.
But what a dump.