WESTFIELD — The towering arching gates first greet fans upon entering Gary Kehler Stadium. The fresh new turf in its vivid shades of green glistens in the sunlight. The thick, rubbery track encloses the field with a striking red tone. Blue-seated bleachers that tower over the field show that this is, indeed, the home of the Blue Devils.
Beyond the surface, renovated restrooms underneath the stadium provide the finishing touches to a new world-class home of Westfield High School athletics.
Though Westfield opened the newly renovated Gary Kehler Stadium with a home game against Linden on Sept. 14, ceremonies to re-dedicate the field took place this Saturday at halftime of Westfield’s football game against rival Union. With family members and friends of the stadium’s namesake — legendary Westfield head football coach Gary Kehler — on hand, accompanied by Westfield Board of Education members and town officials, the ribbon was officially cut from the 50-yard line.
Current members and coaches of Westfield athletic teams were also part of the ceremony, taking it in from the brand-new track in front of the iconic concrete home bleachers, as were the Blue Devil cheerleaders and the Westfield Blue Devils Marching Band.
“I was here when the [first] turf was first laid down — I was the athletic trainer at the time,” said Westfield Athletic Director Sandy Mammary. “To quote Gary Kehler when he first saw the turf in this stadium, he said to me, ‘Dreams come true’. This is just the next dream that came true.
“I’m proud that all of my board members were here and that the Kehler family represented. This is a community effort, and that’s what makes our school so different — the community.”
The improvements were part of a $3.03 million overhaul of the stadium that included the replacement of bleachers, along with the stadium’s aging turf field, track and bathrooms. The turf had been installed 13 years ago and was showing signs of wear. While a lawsuit from a competing bidder delayed the project, resulting in conflicts with last spring’s sports schedule, the contractor completed the work by September.
The work that began in the cold of January was officially completed in the heat of the late summer.
Renovation work began with the demolition of the metal bleachers along Rahway Avenue (to the right of the main concrete grandstand) and continued through the winter months into the spring, finishing in the summer.
Concerns over the safety of stadium’s old turf arose in the recent years, but now Kehler not only has new turf, but also an up-to-date track, shot-put vector and circle, and pits for the high and long jumps.
“We take a lot of pride in our successes,” Mammary said, “and they should have a facility as great as this.”
“We're really hyped [to play here]," Griffin Rooney, a star senior wide receiver on the football team, said last week. "When we saw that [new entrance] tunnel, I think we kicked into another gear with this excitement. This is a new team, and we should do much better this year than we did last year.”