Minium: After 82 years, ODU's Foreman Field got an appropriate and very memorable farewell
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
Old Dominion President John R. Broderick wasn’t a history major in college. He studied English, as you can probably tell whenever you hear him speak.
He chooses his words carefully.
But he’s a history buff and sensitive to the historic nature of Foreman Field, something that was apparent when ODU played its last football game at the 82-year-old stadium on Saturday.
The 20,118-seat facility is named for A.H. Foreman, the former attorney and businessman who played a key role in founding the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, which eventually became ODU. Foreman also procured the federal funding that paid to build the stadium.
So although Foreman died 60 years ago, Broderick sensed that he deserved recognition when ODU played its last game at Foreman Field, which will be demolished and replaced with a new stadium.
Peggy Bartlett and Herbert Foreman Hargroves turn out the lights at Foreman Field for the final time.
It will be known next season simply as S.B. Ballard Stadium.
ODU could have quietly announced the change. Instead, the University very publicly embraced it.
ODU invited Foreman’s two living grandchildren, Herbert Foreman Hargroves, a Richmond businessman, and Peggy Bartlett, a retired Portsmouth principal, and their children to Saturday’s game.
They spent most of the game in a luxury suite. Then, at game’s end, they were among a host of people honored during a short ceremony at mid field.
While a video of Foreman Field’s history was being played, they were led by Broderick and First Lady Kate Broderick into a closet of a room underneath the ancient west stands. They were joined by coach Bobby Wilder and Lisa B. Smith, rector of ODU’s Board of Visitors.
As the 8,000 or so people who remained from the sellout crowd watched on the scoreboard via a camera in the room, Bartlett and Hargroves turned the key that turned off the stadium’s old lights for the last time.
While fireworks were going off in the stadium I pulled them aside and asked them what it meant to them.
They were very obviously moved.
“I’m impressed that ODU honored someone who had such a history in making this happen,” Bartlett said.
“They didn’t have to do this. They could have not recognized my grandfather at all. I think it's really special they did this.”
Hargroves said it’s been years since he’s been to the stadium, and understands why it needs to be torn down.
“The new stadium will be so much better and nicer for fans,” he said.
The helmet ODU football players wore for the final game at Foreman Field.
“But it’s just a building. The spirit will still be there.”
So will the Foreman name. He will be honored in the new stadium, as will the stadium’s history.
The day was full of nostalgia and the game took a back seat. ODU won, crushing VMI, 77-14, even though Wilder stepped on the brakes after the Monarchs led, 49-0, at the half. Even with Wilder clearing his bench and running a conservative offense in the final two quarters, it was the most points ODU has ever scored.
The day began with a festive tail-gate party at Kaufman Mall. Thousands were there to watch the Deloreans, an 80’s hits rock band, play in front of the Webb Center. The Khedive Shrine Temple, this was the Oyster Bowl after all, had a tail-gate area, as did VMI and ODU alumni.
About 40 former players, including Craig Wilkins, Jack Lowney, Josh Mann, Jared Brown and Chris Burnette were honored on the field at halftime. Hundreds of fans lined up to get autographs in the third quarter.
There was a place to snap selfies with a backdrop dedicated to the last game, and lines were long throughout the game.
The game wasn’t artful. It was apparent even before kickoff, as you looked at the size difference between the two teams, that the Keydets were outmanned.
But Wilder said his players have a lot of respect for VMI.
He told his players about a conversation he had with former VMI coach Sparky Woods after ODU defeated the Keydets, 42-35, in 2009.
Justin Noye, one of ODU's 21 seniors, returns an interception for a touchdown against VMI.
“His players went on an 18-mile hike the next day,” Wilder said. “I told our players about the rat line at VMI. Our players have tremendous respect for VMI.”
As Wilder has for Foreman’s grandchildren.
“It was a special moment," when they turned out the lights, he said. "I could see how much it meant to them. When we were back there and we were waiting, we got to talk very briefly. You could see in their eyes how special this was to them.”
It was special to me as well. If read my recent column on the stadium you know Foreman Field holds some of my dearest childhood memories. It’s where I watched so many games with my Dad, Harry Minium Sr.
When I was done interviewing Bartlett and Hargroves, the fireworks were still under way, so I walked back onto the field to take it all in.
“Closing Time,” the song by Semisonic, was playing. I turned on my IPhone to capture the moment, but was crying like a baby.
Wilder said he didn’t shed a tear, but that he, too, was moved as he watched the fireworks. He thought back to ODU’s first game in 2009 against Chowan.
“I had a moment to myself where I looked around and took it all in,” he said. “I tried to just close my eyes and put it in my head one last time.”