The past of Hobart's Brickie Bowl gives life to the future

2014-05-31T18:00:00Z 2014-09-09T23:12:10Z The past of Hobart's Brickie Bowl gives life to the futureSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

HOBART | The lines on the face seemed to mirror the cracks in the concrete below. There is an eternal bond between the two.

Crooked and jagged, the lineation is a lifetime on display -- the joy, sadness, euphoria and thrill of every breath. Of every snap of Hobart Brickies football.

"Coming here almost wants to make me cry," said Tom Kerr on Thursday standing inside Hobart's Brickie Bowl.

Kerr grew up in Hobart, played football for Russ Deal and then went on to play at Michigan. He returned to coach the Brickies from 1962 through 1998, winning 314 games and four state championships.

Kerr was the defensive coordinator for fellow Hall of Fame coach, Don Howell.

"Running out of the tunnel at Michigan into a stadium of 100,000 some fans was an incredible emotion," Kerr said. "I got the same feeling every Friday night here."

Kerr laughed about what Munster coach Leroy Marsh told him several decades ago about The Brickie Bowl.

"If you come here during the day you'd say, 'What a dump.' But that place came alive on Friday nights."

Hobart played its last game at Brickie Bowl on Oct. 24, 2008, a 59-12 win over West Side in the sectional opener. The grand patch of grass has been dormant since.

But with the city of Hobart recently taking control of the beloved facility, a promising future is on the horizon.

All Brickies supporters, though, know the future is built on the past.

"I love this place," Kerr said.

In the late 1930s, 10-foot-high ragweed was all that was on the grounds. The Norfolk-Western railroad tracks ran through the swampy rectangle around Duck Creek.

WPA dollars flowed into the community to provide bread for families and hope for communities. This sparked Brickie Bowl's genesis. About $25,000 went into labor costs to build the football field, with the first shovel going into the ground in 1937.

Duck Creek was moved for the field. Hobart students built wooden forms and helped pour concrete.

"All my life, I want to be a Brickie. Work. Work. Work." That was their motto.

U.S. Steel donated the steel for the light fixtures, which were rare in those days. Brickie Bowl one of the Region's first stadiums to have lights and night games.

"We played down there, it was a swamp," Delos Brooks told The Times in 2008. Brooks was born in 1922 and watched Brickie Bowl grow out of nothing. He played in the first game there, too.

"Hobart was a Republican town," Brooks said. "The people didn't like (FDR's) Works Progress Administration. That was Roosevelt. It wasn't discussed too much."

The first game played there was Sept. 18, 1939.

Lew Wallace beat Hobart 44-0, and a kid named Hank Stram scored two TDs for the Hornets. Stram would later coach the Kansas City Chiefs to the 1970 Super Bowl title and was later inducted into the NFL's Hall of Fame.

Brickie Bowl made history even by accident.

Under Deal and Howell, Hobart football moved up during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. But there was one game that put the Brickies and their Bowl on the map.

"It all really started with the Penn game in 1979," Kerr said.

More than 10,000 fans came to watch heavy favorite Penn play Hobart with a trip to the state championship going to the winner. No one expected much from the Brickies.

Not the people sitting on tree limbs watching. Not the people standing on the railroad tracks. Not the people in the back yards on the hill overlooking the Bowl. But Hobart won 27-20 and a dynasty emerged.

Over the next 14 years, Hobart made it to 11 state championship games, winning in 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993. Hobart won 71 straight home games in the 1980s.

USA Today picked Brickie Bowl as the third-best place to watch high school football in America.

John Mitchell is Hobart's Park Superintendent. He graduated in 1973, playing football for Howell and Kerr. He was a North-South All-Star and played at Indiana State, before joining the Marines.

He glorifies Brickie Bowl's past and will play a part in its future.

"I still get that feeling walking in here," Mitchell said. "I dropped some sweat and blood in here. The brotherhood is still the same. It's like being in the Marine Corps.

"When you have a gun in your hand at two in the morning you can relate with someone else who did the same thing."

This community-wide emotion is why a wrecking ball won't come to the Bowl anytime soon. There is too much love, too many emotions, to let this pass away.

The home metal bleachers have to go. But the concrete lower bleachers, with green life sprouting up through the cracks, will be saved. There are a lot of good ideas for the future that Mitchell has heard and will be investigated.

But whatever will come is sitting on the foundation of Hobart football's Hollywood-like past.

"It brings back so many fond memories," Kerr said. "Happy moments. Sad moments. All the great games, playoff games. The atmosphere here on Friday nights was like no other place.

"We had great kids who worked hard. This place is a testament to everything that happened here before."

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