I really had no idea what to expect last Friday night when I pulled up to the campus at Mount Carmel to attend my first ever varsity football game at the new Barda-Dowling Stadium at Carey Field.
After years of covering the Caravan home games at Gately Stadium, seeing them play a true home game would be a brand new experience to say the least.
So, how was it?
It was outstanding-- on so many levels.
I've been to Mount Carmel more than a few times over the years for various events: signing days, press conferences and the like. I already was familiar with the impressive renovations and additions to the campus.
But the moment I walked down the Champions Walkway leading up to the new stadium on Friday night, it was already a completely different experience. The walkway has a college campus feel, with various signage listing the multiple Caravan state titles and various sports accomplishments. Also along that walkway are various tables with information, a school spirit store, gigantic grills going at full blast and just a very fun, very friendly atmosphere when you were immediately made to feel welcome.
Wait. A friendly atmosphere? Fun? Yes…fun.
Mount Carmel undoubtedly needed to work overtime in trying to figure out how to transform a turf practice field into a stadium able to host fans in a very tight, landlocked area on the south end of the school. Somehow, they pulled it off.
Barda-Dowling Stadium has been able to fit in a decent amount of stands (capacity is listed as 2,150) in a very unique way that you'll seldom see at any other high school stadium. The home side is on the south end of the stadium. The field his also runs from east to west—a bit of a rarity. The stands run from goal line to goal line and are roughly 10 rows high. It includes a good sized press box. The stands are raised above field level, providing great sight lines for the fans while also adding to the whole stadium feel. The north end zone also includes quite a bit of seating while the visitor side runs alongside the school and provides a decent amount of viewing.
Mix in these major stadium renovations into the setting of the various school buildings on one side, the neighborhood on another side and then the occasional rumble of an Illinois Central train going by and you have a really cool, unique city feel surrounding the field. The stadium also sounds great (and loud) and has finally given the Caravan a true home field advantage for the first time I can remember.
The home fans were treated to a 17-14, last-second win over Loyola this past Friday. But in my opinion it was a much different crowd compared to the games at Gately Stadium. This Mount Carmel crowd was younger. I saw more younger alums, families and kids running around, mixed in with the many longtime supporters all in one venue. That didn't happen very much at Gately Stadium.
This is not a shot at Gately Stadium whatsoever. It was a place that has served the school –and continue to serves the IHSA- well. The venue continues to host multiple games each week. But the feel and vibe for Caravan football at Gatley for decades has been more like get in…get done…get out. Fun? Not really.
With the addition of Barda Dowling Stadium at Carey Field, an old traditional football power has a new home, a new face and a new identity. Most importantly, the program has renewed energy and excitement that I never thought I would see or experience. It’s a prime example that you can blend in old school tradition with a new school identity and make it work.
Well done, Mount Carmel.