"Opening day, for me, will be an interesting day, with the whole range of emotions," says Alan White, beginning his 23rd year as athletics director. "It will be a moment of pride, excitement and appreciation to those who made this possible."
Head football coach Al Seagraves gets excited talking about opening day, too, and knows he'll be emotional when the Phoenix take the field for the first time. "I'm sure I'm going to have chills up my spine and tears in my eyes taking the first team in there," says Seagraves. "It will be a phenomenal experience."
The US $13 million stadium is winning praise as one of the nation's most attractive college football venues. The stadium is nestled in a wooded setting with brick and wrought iron creating a classic collegiate atmosphere. McKinnon Field, set 16 feet (4.8 m) below ground, includes a sophisticated turf drainage and irrigation system that is on par with the best NFL facilities.
Elon's history of excellence in college football includes two NAIA national championships, numerous conference titles and an overall won-loss record of 427-326. Prior to World War II, home football games were played at Comer Field, a town facility near campus. Since 1949, Elon has played home games at Memorial Stadium, a municipal facility four miles from campus in Burlington, N.C. Over the years, there were efforts to give Memorial Stadium a home game atmosphere. But the dream of an on-campus stadium has persisted for 50 years.
"The tailgating, the band playing, the whole atmosphere of a football Saturday in the fall, will finally be here on campus. It's something that, no matter how hard you try, you can't reproduce off campus," White says.
The stadium opening also will mean the debut of Elon's new marching band, The Fire of the Carolinas. More than 80 musicians will march through campus, leading fans past the new bell tower in Victory Circle, through Theos Arch and into the stadium.
Rhodes Stadium is a case study in the new wave of stadium design and construction that has taken off in the last 10 years. Each of the 8,250 seats is close to the action. Restrooms and concessions stands are plentiful, and a two-story press box includes five skyboxes for private gatherings along with spacious, fully-wired facilities for print and broadcast media. The design allows expansion to a capacity of 20,000 seats. Every feature of the stadium, including extensive landscaping, a wide concourse and entrance colonnade, fits the character of Elon's campus.
"Each university is unique, and before we even begin to design a new stadium, we try to get to know each campus," says project manager Doug Beichley. Beichley and a team of designers took a close look at the other buildings and the general "flow" of campus to conceive a stadium that would blend into the Elon landscape.
Beichley says Rhodes Stadium is one of the few collegiate stadiums built in recent years, and says it will be a model for other universities that are looking to replace aging stadiums built in the 1960s and 70s.
An innovator since its founding in 1909 (the year of that first Elon football game), Ellerbe Becket is a leader in architecture, engineering and the construction industry with office locations worldwide.
General contractor was Beers Construction Co. of Winston-Salem, N.C. Beers specializes in sports facilities and also served as general contractor for the Georgia Dome, Olympic Stadium (now Turner Field for the Atlanta Braves), Adelphia Coliseum (Tennessee Titans) and several other college stadiums.
White says the stadium already has had a positive impact on important areas such as recruiting and fund raising. "People see this facility, they become excited, and they want to be a part of that," White says. He believes the stadium is something all Elon supporters can be proud of, "because we've done this project the right way, just like we've done everything else here. We first paid attention to other buildings and programs on campus; we had our priorities in order."
Fund raising efforts for the project began as part of the Elon Vision, a strategic plan launched in 1994 and completed this year. The stadium is named for trustee Dusty Rhodes, his wife, Peggy, and their family. The field is named for trustee Bob McKinnon and his wife, Ray. The Rhodes of Gibsonville, N.C., and the McKinnons, of Hickory, N.C., were major donors to the project.