Dunbar has always been a major part of the community, but the new football field that opened Friday took that to another level. The Poets always had a place to play, but now they've got someplace special.
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"[We've] been here since 5 a.m., and it's a great day," Poets coach Lawrence Smith said.
There's a brand-new FieldTurf playing surface, a refurbished track and a flashy scoreboard at one end of the field. Under Armour was the driving force behind the project as the company picked Dunbar as the initial "WIN Baltimore"' recipient, providing the school with all of the athletic changes plus a pair of upgraded computer labs among other things.
"It's a proud day," Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said before the game. "It's a good day. It's a positive day in our city."
The football team had fun because it took charge early en route to a 50-0 halftime lead. But as much as the Poets enjoyed the easy win, this wound up being a night for the whole community.
They now have a top-notch facility to watch the Poets play.
"It's a positive setting," Dunbar athletic director Dana Johnson said. "It's a positive event."
Johnson said fans were calling Dunbar as early as 1 p.m. looking for tickets and all were gone by 4 p.m. The field holds about 1,000 fans, and it was filled long before the game. But that didn't stop the fans who wanted to watch.
There were groups who tailgated inside, some who did the same outside and fans who wandered around, connecting and re-connecting. A football game was played, and even though fans and everyone was interested in that, the field is what people really wanted to see.
Dunbar played many night games at Mervo and Poly in recent years, using those two facilities for home games on those occasions. Now, the Poets finally have their own place to play — and they can do it at night.
"[The field] was a dull spot in the community, just the way it looked," Dunbar principal Kristina Kyles said. "Now it is a bright spot."
Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for Baltimore City and a former Dunbar coach, stood on the sidelines during the game. He looked at the tailgaters in the end zone closest to the school and watched the fans that spent at least three hours on the outside looking in through the fences.
"Dunbar's always been the focal point of the community," Wade said. "They're enjoying this tonight."