When the state of Montana created its flagship sport — track and field — for high school interscholastic competition in 1904, Flathead County athletes ran on a rugged dirt surface in Kalispell.
Over the last 109 years, the dusty track has evolved into a multi-sport facility aptly named Legends Stadium that has helped produce some of the state’s best athletes and achievements that are all rooted in the local arena.
The stadium and its track are undergoing the latest upgrade this summer.
Beginning in two weeks, a new larger scoreboard featuring a video message center will be installed inside the Kalispell stadium. The structure will be in the same location as the current one, but with larger and advanced display capabilities, including a color screen that can show short clips of video and live statistics during events like track meets.
After the installation of the scoreboard, crews will tear up the black track, which is showing significant wear and tear, and replace the entire surface.
Both projects are expected to be completed by the time school is back in session in late August, according to Mark Dennehy, activities director at Glacier High.
Dennehy has been leading the changes at Legends Stadium with the help of Flathead Activities Director Bryce Wilson and others, including both schools’ booster clubs, which are pitching in funds for the projects.
The overall cost for the scoreboard is roughly $60,000 and the installation of the new track is $130,000, Dennehy said.
The improvements are being paid for up front by the school district’s athletic contingency fund, which will be reimbursed by long-term advertising and funds from the booster clubs, according to Dennehy.
Both upgrades have been talked about for years, but significant upcoming events helped spur them along, Dennehy said.
Legends Stadium is hosting the Western AA divisional track meet next spring, which will attract seven schools and hundreds of athletes. In the spring of 2015, Legends is hosting the state track meets for roughly 60 teams in Class AA and B.
Kalispell hosted its first state track meet in 2009 for AA and B and attracted almost 1,000 athletes and 5,000 spectators.
The track surface was last replaced 13 years ago, and the typical replacement cycle is every 10 years, Dennehy said.
The new scoreboard will feature a 4-by-11 foot message center, which is a trimmed down version of a previously proposed upgrade. Three years ago, a Flathead alumnus proposed installing a scoreboard with a 16-by-24 foot LED screen. The ambitious project never materialized, but school administrators still saw a need and opportunity for an improved scoreboard.
“This is something that will meet our needs and improve that fan experience,” Dennehy said.
Legends Stadium has evolved significantly over the last century. The latest advancements came in 2004, when the Flathead High School Trustees voted to change the name of Rawson Field to Legends Stadium.
Usage of the facility has increased substantially since then. The stadium, tucked in a residential neighborhood a few blocks from Flathead High, remains the school’s main site for activities. When Glacier High opened in 2007 the school’s athletics teams began sharing the site, too. Glacier’s varsity football team still uses the field along with Flathead on Friday nights. Youth programs like the Highlander Track Club also use the stadium for events.
Glacier has begun hosting small meets at its own track, but the facility remains largely undeveloped. Dennehy said there are no plans to develop the athletic complex at Glacier in the near future, although temporary seating could be added and would be available to transport to Legends for large events.
Another prospect for the future is an improvement of the football field in Legends. The current field has weathered decades of use and it often shows. Other concerns arise during the late fall when weather can turn large sections of grass into mud, the latest example arising last season when Glacier hosted a playoff game.
“The crown on the field is pretty torn out,” Dennehy said.
School administrators are keeping all options up for consideration, including the possibility of installing turf, similar to the facility in Ronan. But the cost estimates remain out of reach at this time, Dennehy said.
Together, the upgrades in Legends Stadium provide much needed maintenance for a popular and important site that the community can take pride in, Dennehy said.
“It was time to take another step and get some things done,” he said. “I think people are really excited.”