The nomad Glads are finally coming home.
After playing its first four games in enemy territory, the Clarke Central football team will host its first game of the 2020 season at 7:30 p.m. Friday, squaring off against Jackson County in a Region 8-5A showdown at the new-and-improved Billy Henderson Stadium.
For the last several months, Clarke Central’s stadium – also reverently referred to as Death Valley – has been a massive construction site, as crews have toiled to prepare the facility for Friday night’s game. Besides installing a new artificial-turf field, there will also be new stands for visiting fans, with a visitors-side concession stand, restrooms and an eight-lane track yet to be completed.
“My understanding, with weather permitting – and it looks like we’ve got a good week of weather – is that everything will be in place except for the actual track surface and the lines and the visiting concession stand and restroom area,” said Clarke Central athletic director Jon Ward late last week. “…But the field will be done, the bleachers are done, the visiting press box is done, the base of the track will be done. Those are the main renovations taking place.
“It’s been strange with all the precautions and COVID procedures and guidelines, and to not play at home until October has really been different.”
The work – part of a SPLOST facilities improvement project that is also funding renovations at Cedar Shoals’ Waters-Wilkins Stadium – made it necessary for the Gladiators to open the season on a four-game tour of schools that included familiar rivals Cedar Shoals and Apalachee and two state-ranked foes in Oconee County and Buford. Clarke Central came out relatively unscathed at 2-2.
From this point, Clarke Central will play its next two games at home before a three-game road swing and then a two-game homestand to end the regular season. The Gladiators last played at home on Nov. 22, 2019, defeating Wayne County 28-0 in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
“We’ve been on the road forever, so it’s going to be exciting to get back home,” said coach David Perno last Friday after Clarke Central’s 28-0 victory at Apalachee. “It’s come together quickly these last couple weeks. It looked like the same thing for a month, then lately it’s come (along) and looks great and it’s going to be a beautiful place and we’re going to be excited to play there.”
It goes without saying that the Gladiators are delighted to christen their new field.
“Can’t wait, we just got this new field and can’t wait to break it in,” said senior wide receiver Nono Mack. “It’s been a slow process.”
“Man, I’m just ready,” said junior running back Will Richardson. “First home game, we’re ready.”
“Hopefully we’ll just be able to concentrate and just play football,” said Perno.
Ward pointed out that the team should be able to practice on the new turf field for the first time on Thursday and said that during construction, the Gladiators were exclusively utilizing their practice field, which is not regulation size.
“The only time we’ve been on a regulation field this year is for games,” said Ward, who added that it will be nice not to have to load buses and the equipment truck for the next two weeks. “There’s a lot of nuts and bolts and pragmatic things we look forward to as far as having access to our field. Not just playing on it, but to be able to practice on a full-width field is important. The way you practice translates into how you play.”
Clarke Central is inviting any and all football alumni to attend Friday’s game to commemorate the re-opening of Death Valley and to honor the school’s state championship football teams from 1977, 1979 and 1985.
“We’ve gotten a real good response on that,” said Ward, who added that about 1,600 tickets would be available. Digital ticket sales can be access by visiting https://gofan.co/app/school/GA4910.