Jeff Kolpack, Published October 19 2012
Howard Wood Field has a chilling past regarding weather conditions
The flick was probably as frightening and legendary as the winds at Howard Wood. With a field on the northwest corner of the city that runs slightly from the northwest to southeast, any cold blustery winds from Canada find a perfect tunnel once they enter Sioux Falls.
Former Sioux Falls sportswriter Bruce Conley recalls a college sprinter once telling him after a track and field meet that it was raining at the first turn, sleeting at the second turn and snowing in the back stretch.
“Spitznagel’s Alley,” Conley said.
Spitznagel’s visitor center has since been updated, and so has Howard Wood. When North Dakota State plays the University of South Dakota at
6 p.m. today, both teams will find the FieldTurf that was installed in 2003 a nice, functional playing surface that rarely greeted NDSU in the old days when it played Augustana College.
If you thought Hitchcock movies were scary, you should have seen the old field a week after a drenching rain.
Grass was optional in the center portions of the field. By November, it could be frozen dirt.
“If it rained hard on Thursday and there was a doubleheader on Friday, it was scarred for the rest of the season,” said Conley, who went on to become the sports information director at Augustana.
For many years, all of the high schools in Sioux Falls played there. Sioux Falls College played there.
And then there was Augustana – with its campus a few miles away that made every home game seem like an away game – especially to the equipment manager who had to haul everything over there.
NDSU, which was 19-5 vs. Augustana at Howard Wood from 1959-2003, had some memorable weather games, like the “Snow Bowl” in 1985 when eight inches of snow covered the playing surface. Before 284 fans, backup quarterback Brian Owen rushed for 121 yards in a 25-0 NDSU win.
Two inches of rain soaked the field in 1982, a game won 13-2 by the Bison on Jeff Willis’ 101 yards rushing. In 1990, those strong northwest winds caused problems, but not too many for NDSU in a 43-14 victory behind Chris Simdorn’s 129 yards rushing.
“A windy night could absolutely disrupt a football game,” said Argus-Leader sportswriter Mick Garry, who has been covering games at Howard Wood since 1990.
Punters give the best memories. In one of Garry’s first years covering a high school game, a punt into the wind flew back over the player’s head.
“A punt for a 30-yard loss,” Garry said.
On the flipside, a punt between Huron and Sioux Falls Roosevelt can be found on YouTube when the ball literally rolled over half the length of the field with the wind.
“Just a bunch of kids watching and watching and watching the football roll, roll, roll,” Garry said.
Conley remembers a game between Moorhead High and Sioux Falls Washington played in sleet and wind.
“The winning field goal started out in one direction and ended up in the other, but it made it over the crossbar,” he said.
Before Howard Wood, Sioux Falls was the site of the state’s first football game when USD and South Dakota State tied 6-6 in 1889. USD actually played a five-game series with Notre Dame from 1913-1917, including a pair of games in Sioux Falls.
But nothing has stories like Howard Wood.
Augustana finally got its own stadium in 2009. The University of Sioux Falls has its own complex, and O’Gorman High School has one of the best prep fields around.
Howard Wood, meanwhile, lives on in the spirit of its namesake – a longtime coach at Washington High. When USD head coach Joe Glenn takes to the field tonight, forgive him if he immediately recalls a 1996 game when he was the head coach at Northern Colorado.
The Bears won a North Central Conference title on the last weekend of the season.
“It rained, sleeted and snowed, and it repeated that,” Glenn said. “We thought honest to goodness we’re not going to play that game. There was a sheet of ice from the 20 to the 20.”
There will be no such lore tonight. The forecast calls for sunny skies and manageable winds for a football coach.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia