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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium Is “Absolutely Amazing”

By Harry Minium

When Stephanie Field saw Hurricane Dorian bearing down on her home in West Palm Beach, Fla., she decided to fly to her hometown of Norfolk. And even though the storm is expected to turn northward away from Florida, she's glad she came home.

She wrangled a ticket to Old Dominion's football home opener against Norfolk State, and like many of the 21,944 fans on hand, was blown away by the $67.5 million renovation of what used to be Foreman Field.

"I was stunned when I walked in," said Field, who was a cheerleader at ODU. "I can't believe what they did here. It's absolutely amazing. Never in my wildest dreams, when I was cheering at ODU soccer games at Foreman Field, did I ever think we'd have a stadium like this.

"I'm so proud of my alma mater."

She was far from alone. After 10 years of coping with cramped and outdated Foreman Field, many fans were blown away by the stadium's 15,962 new sideline seats, modern concessions stands and restrooms.

The game was preceded by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a short speech from President John R. Broderick that was played on the video board. He told fans that they were a top consideration during the renovation.

He said ODU followers endured the poor amenities available at the 82-year-old Foreman Field. "We did this for all of our loyal fans," he said.

He also heaped praise on everyone involved in the renovation, from architects to ODU officials who oversaw the project to plumbers and carpenters. Many of the subcontractors attended the game as guests of ODU.

He asked them to rise and thanked them for their sacrifices. "You are our unsung heroes," he said.

Key people who helped make the stadium a reality were introduced during timeouts, including Barry Kornblau, who donated $3 million to the stadium, and Dennis Ellmer, whose $1.5 million donation allowed ODU to open the Priority Automotive Club, where 388 major donors were feted.

J. Morgan Davis, an alumnus who heads TowneBank and agreed to a $1 million donation that allowed ODU to have a new video board, also was introduced, as was Stephen Ballard, whose S.B. Ballard Construction did the makeover.

Ballard drew praise from President Broderick and a sustained ovation from the crowd. Ballard had crews working overnight Thursday and Friday to finish work on the Priority Automotive Club, which on Thursday afternoon appeared to be weeks away from completion.

Peter G. Decker III, a Norfolk attorney and one of the newest members of ODU's Board of Visitors, was among those who praised Ballard profusely.

"It's a miracle that Steve Ballard was able to pull this off," Decker said. "People said it couldn't be done, but I never had any doubt that he would get it done. He worked his rear end off to get this stadium open.

"Now we have the finest facility of its size in the country. And the game was perfect. ODU playing Norfolk State, a great crowd and a close game. It was a great day for the city."

As well as for ODU students. More than 6,000 picked up tickets for the game, and although not as many showed up, it was clearly the largest student turnout for a football game.

A number of students said it was their first time attending a game. Many said they were attracted by being able to sit on the sidelines rather than the north end zone, the ability to use meal cards at concessions stands and a good dose of curiosity about the new stadium.

Christopher Childress, a communication major, attended ODU's first game in 2009 and nearly every game since.

"This stadium is a huge upgrade," he said. "This is so much nicer than Foreman Field."

Megan Miranda, a theater major, said her parents stopped coming to games with her in recent years because they grew tired of the compact seating and limited restroom facilities. But her mom was with her in the east stands Saturday night.

"The seats at Foreman Field were so uncomfortable," she said. "The seats here are so much better."

Norfolk State Athletic Director Marty Miller was also impressed.

"Old Dominion has done a wonderful job with this stadium. It's going to create such a good fan experience," he said. "What Steve Ballard did was amazing, to get this one in a short time.

"We were proud to be part of this game."

The Spartans nearly won, outscoring ODU 15-3 in the second half before the Monarchs won on a 2-yard touchdown run by Lala Davis.

Longtime Norfolk State fan Joe Winbourne said he watched the Spartans play dozens of games at Foreman Field, which NSU used as its home field for decades.

"I liked when we played at Foreman Field," he said. "We filled the place up. I have a lot of great memories here. But this is definitely a more glamourous facility."

Even for fans waiting in lines at the concessions stands, including Bob and Toni Wolf of Virginia Beach. Toni said they were emotionally attached to Foreman Field, warts and all. They stood on the top of the 49thStreet parking garage watching as the demolition of Foreman Field began last November.

"But we love the new stadium," Toni said. "I'm pleased that there are so many more ladies' restrooms."

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, an ODU alumna, lived in Larchmont steps from the stadium when the Monarchs began playing football. While she didn't attend a lot of games at Foreman Field, she tailgated before most with her neighbors.

"This is nothing like the stadium I remember," she said. "It's just unbelievable."

Norfolk native and NFL great Bruce Smith, who often attends ODU games, agreed.

"Steve did a really nice job," he said. "I played at Foreman Field. I know what it was like.

"This is so much nicer."

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