For more than 60 years, Shotwell Stadium has stood on the east side of Abilene, a witness to many of the greatest feats of athleticism in the city’s history.
The 1959 stadium has hosted hundreds of playoff games featuring some of the greatest coaches and players in the history of Texas high school and small-college football. NFL Hall of Fame players have played on its surface, and Texas Sports Hall of Fame members have both coached and played at the stadium. It has hosted great teams from both Abilene High School and Cooper High School, and in 2009 it was the home field for the Class 5A Division II state champion Eagles.
The longest in-game field goal in organized football history – a 69-yarder off the foot of ACU’s Ove Johansson in a win over then-East Texas State – took place on Oct. 16, 1976, at Shotwell Stadium. That same day, former ACU running back Wilbert Montgomery, himself a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, set a now-surpassed record for most touchdowns scored by a player in college football history.
For those who were born and raised in Abilene and perhaps never left, Shotwell Stadium has been part of the fabric of many of their lives: going to games on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons to watch the Eagles, Cougars, or ACU Wildcats play when ACU used Shotwell for its home games (1959-2016).
And while many facets of the stadium have undergone renovations, additions, and facelifts, one part of the stadium that has remained the same is the press box. Original to the stadium since it opened seven decades ago, the press box is unchanged from the night it first hosted media, coaches, and other guests when the stadium opened in 1959.
It still has just one restroom for both men and women to share. It doesn’t have either central heat or air. And with no elevator, those who need to be in the booth must use the steps up through the stands.
But all of that is going to change over the next 15 months as the district prepares to make even more updates to the stadium that will once again make Shotwell Stadium a preferred destination for high school playoff games in West Texas. The renovations are scheduled to be complete in time for the 2023 football season.
“I suspect they (AISD administrations of the past) were talking about a new press box at Shotwell Stadium when I was a student in the AISD,” said Superintendent Dr. David Young, a 1990 graduate of Cooper High School. He made those comments not long after the AISD Board of Trustees voted in February to approve the usage of surplus funds to build the new press box on the west side of the stadium.
“I have played and coached at Shotwell Stadium, and it has a certain mystique about it,” new AISD Executive Director for Athletics Jim Garfield said. “It’s one of the best stadiums in the state of Texas, and now that we’re going to be doing these upgrades to the press box and video board, it’s just going to make the atmosphere that much greater and more intense.”
Aside from the building of a new press box, the AISD is replacing the current video board with a new state-of-the-art video board from Daktronics. The new board will enable students taking Audio/Visual classes at The LIFT to put their skills to use each Friday night helping produce the games for the live stream and in-stadium replays and production. The video board is being funded by advertising and sponsorship money from businesses across Abilene.
New LED lights similar to those at the newly constructed Shotwell Annex have already been installed. The new video board will be installed later this summer on the north end to go along with a new scoreboard on the south end, New play clocks on either end of the field, and new game clocks in each locker room, are also planned.
Both Abilene High and Cooper will be at home for scrimmages and their first two games of the regular season in 2022, including the Sept. 2 Crosstown Showdown. With the schedule being flipped for 2023, it means the Eagles and Cougars will be on the road to open the season, giving workers a couple of extra weeks if necessary to complete the project and have the press box ready for the ’23 version of the Crosstown Showdown.
“As soon as athletics directors and coaches from this part of the state heard about the upgrades and saw what it’s going to look like, our phones started ringing off the hook,” Garfield said. “We’re in a perfect spot in Abilene where east meets west and north meets south. The new lights, the video board, and next year the press box will make this an even more amazing place to play.”
SHOTWELL STADIUM TIMELINE
1959 – Stadium opens
2002 – AISD Board of Trustees approves a vendor contract, which provides funding for major renovations to the stadium, the first of which was the installation of SafePlay turf. Also added were the drainage system and new field-access ramps.
2003 – Corporate sponsorship gives the district the funds it needs to install a scoreboard with an integrated color animation screen on the north end of the stadium. The scoreboard on the south end was also upgraded. Soon after, parking lots to the west and south of the stadium were paved, new locker rooms were built on the south end of the stadium, and a new restroom complex was added on the northwest corner of the stadium.
2007 – High-definition video scoreboard that displays instant replays, AISD messages, and advertising were installed in the north end zone.
2012 – New turf installed at Shotwell Stadium.
2019 – New turf was added to Shotwell Stadium.
2020 – The Shotwell Annex opened, giving the AISD a site to host football games, soccer matches, and track and field meets.
2022 – New video board added to the north end of the stadium, new LED lights installed, new south end scoreboard, new play clocks, and new locker rooms clocks installed.
Coming in 2023 – A new press box to be built on the west side of the stadium.