LACONIA — ''It's unbelievable, it's beautiful. I never thought this would happen,'' said Jack Irwin, a member of Laconia High School's 1949 state championship football team, as he walked into the new Bank of New Hampshire Stadium last night.
An overflow crowd was on hand for the first-ever game at the sports facility, which will also be used for lacrosse, field hockey, soccer and other sports and features a FieldTurf playing surface.
''This is an outstanding facility and it was all the result of a community effort by lots of good people,'' said Paul Phelps, a 1963 Laconia High School graduate who returned to his home city to teach and was the line coach for the Sachems for many years.
Both Irwin and Phelps were members of a committee which worked to privately raise $1 million to help build the stadium, which was part of a $16.8 million Huot Center project which also saw renovations and additions to Laconia High School.
Rod Dyer, former Laconia mayor and School Board chairman and Chairman Emeritus of the Bank Of New Hampshire, which donated $250,000 for naming rights to the new stadium, said that the bank (formerly Laconia Savings Bank) has always played a big role in the community and was pleased to see the new facility opened.
Dyer spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by Laconia City Manager Scott Myers, who said that Laconia can be rightfully proud of ''the great community effort'' which led to building the new stadium.
Former Laconia High School head coach Jim Fitzgerald, for whom the field at the stadium will be named on September 27, said ''it's more than just a football stadium, it's going to serve as the playing surface for a lot of other sports teams and will be enjoyed by young people in the city for generations. Sports are more than just games for young people to play. They build character and teach life lessons that can't be learned in any other way.''
City Councilman Matt Lahey, who played for Laconia High School in the early 1970s and headed the capital campaign which raised the supplementary funds, reminisced with Andy Bartlett, who played on those same Laconia High School teams, how the Sachems had beaten perennial New Hampshire football powerhouse Manchester Central two years in a row and how they had a special defense designed to contain Central's big fullback Stan Pinkos.
Peter Newell, a 1966 Laconia High School grad, said he was pleased with the new stadium but thought that it should have been built years ago.