Melrose High football has a ball unveiling Fred Green Field
No matter what Joe Hoague was doing in his old office at Melrose Middle School, out of the corner of his eye, he’d be peering out the window, waiting for intruders.
The legendary coach, who died in 1991, was notorious for keeping anyone and everyone off the football field, making sure no one put as much as one foot onto the grass.
That was the football team’s home, and after compiling 200 wins during his high school coaching career (which also included stints at Natick and Taunton), it was also Hoague’s home.
“No one stepped on that field during the week,’’ said current Red Raiders football coach Tim Morris, who played for Hoague at Melrose in the ’80s. “He was so protective. He would sit there all day and make sure it stayed empty.’’
Of course, with the unpredictable New England weather, Hoague was also trying to keep the field playable. In what continues to be one of the most prudent issues with a natural playing surface, there’s only so much use it can withstand.
Melrose unveiled its new $4.5 million venue with a bang last Friday night, a 28-2 Middlesex League win over Arlington in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 1,800.
Before the game, a few hundred people were running and jumping all over the turf for a pregame ceremony. The very next day, the boys’ soccer team hosted its first-round tournament game on the same field.
On Sunday, both the junior varsity and middle school football teams played games there.
“Joe Hoague would not be happy,’’ said Melrose athletic director Patricia Ruggiero. “He used to call it his garden. But times have changed. The community can’t afford to exclusively allow only the varsity football team to play on it. Football will remain the priority, but other teams are going to use it a lot.’’
As long as the 16 seniors on this year’s 7-2 varsity squad finally got to play at least one true home game this year, the players don’t care what other teams play on the field.
Even games listed on the schedule as “home’’ this season have put Melrose players on a bus, in a visiting team’s locker room at Reading or Woburn, and playing in front of crowds that, more often than not, had more fans for the opposing team.
But the Red Raiders didn’t seem to care. They put a dreadful 2010 season behind them and started the fall 5-0, including three wins on a neutral site.
“We just go out there and play the best we can wherever we play,’’ said senior Matthew DeSimone. “We just try to do what we can and not let the fans affect us.’’
Heartbreaking losses to Burlington and Wilmington have set Melrose back a bit, but when the Red Raiders ran onto Fred Green Field for the first time, they were like a new team.
The multisport complex is still not finished. The baseball field will be ready in the spring. Fences and construction signs are cluttered in front of the middle school. There was no clear entrance, the concession stand is still under construction, and the toilets were of the portable variety.
But it didn’t matter. Signs lined the fences and fans in red and black squeezed in the bleachers, up along the sidelines, and behind both end zones. Some even stood outside of the gated area and watched from the sidewalk on Tremont Street.
The Red Raiders were 6-2 without a place they could call home. They are 1-0 with one. And on Thanksgiving Day, Melrose will host Wakefield in what DeSimone described as a “Christmas morning-type feeling.’’
“This is what you work for; anyone can tell you that,’’ said cocaptain and running back Spencer Walsh. “We all worked for this. This was something special. This is our turf now. No one is taking it over.’’
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.