Guy Ellis

Celebrating 50 years at Ridgerunner Stadium the GHS football team open their home schedule tonight with a familiar opponent: old rivals the Miami Wardogs.

The venerable stadium first opened its gates in 1959 for the Ridgerunners’ season-opening contest against Dewey, a 28-16 Grove victory. Led by All-State lineman Kelly Hampton the Ridgerunners swept to a 10-0 season claiming the Lucky Seven Conference Championship along the way.

Grove (1-1) will be looking to rebound from a tough 12-3 loss last week at Wagoner.

For Miami (0-2) tonight will be an opportunity to jump-start what has been a difficult beginning to the new season.

“Overall, Grove is the best team we’ve seen all year,” Miami Head Coach Micah Nall said. “They are the most complete team overall.”

The Wardogs opened ’09 with a 49-7 loss at Wagoner. Last week Miami fell to Jay 41-7 at home.

Nall, in his first season as head coach with the program, and his staff has been working out the kinks with the young Miami team.

“We need to get more consistency on offense,” he said. “Our defense played well last week, especially in the first half.”

Nall was an assistant coach at the University of Central Oklahoma last season. Nall’s previous experience with Miami was as an offensive line coach during the Chris Risenhoover era at MHS. Risenhoover has moved to the coaching spot at Stigler this season.

The new head coach expects a battle tonight.

“They graduated a lot but they just plug new ones in,” Nall said of the GHS program. “They’re young at a couple of spots but they’re good and experienced at the key spots.”

GHS Head Coach Dennis Millican declined an interview request for this article.

Miami has the historical edge in the series but on a contemporary basis it’s been all Grove the past few years. (See sidebar on page 4B)

Last season the Ridgerunners claimed a 27-7 win at Robertson Field.

Before the kickoff tonight the Grove PTO will be holding their third annual Tailgate Party in the practice field just adjacent to the parking lot at Ridgerunner Stadium. Activities are set to begin at 6:00 p.m.

The Tailgate will feature a football skills session for kids set up by the Grand Lake Family YMCA.

Katie Fuerst will be doing face paintings and PTO moms and volunteers will be on hand serving up temporary Ridgy tattoos for fans of all ages.

Arvest Bank will be at the Tailgate with their big cooker and fine grilled foods on offer.

Fine Threads and the Grove Touchdown Club will both have booths set up at the Tailgate offering Ridgerunner T-shirts and assorted memorabilia.

“We’re looking forward to seeing a lot of people at the Tailgate Party this year,” said PTO President Angel Hill. “It’s a great time for everyone to meet up before the game and the kids just love it.”

The Touchdown Club will also debut the new inflatable helmet tonight that will become a fixture at all Ridgerunner home games.

The helmet is one of the largest in the world and seeing the home team burst through it at the beginning of the game should be enough to stir even the most stoic of souls.

The Touchdown Club was also busy Thursday morning and afternoon painting the end zones and mid-field of Ridgerunner Stadium with the distinctive “Grove” and oval “G” legends.

TD Club members Tony Armstrong, Mike Davenport, and Steve Lovelady have been painting the field for three seasons.

“It’s a lot of hard work but it’s worth it,” Davenport said. “We want the kids to have the best experience possible.”

The crew has a routine worked out after working together for so long.

“Basically, Tony is the brains of it all and Steve and I just do whatever he says,” Davenport explained.

The Ridgerunner Band, the band that pride built, will be crowning their 2009 Band Queen in a ceremony at Ridgerunner Stadium tonight before kickoff.

Tonight’s game with Miami will mark the 50th year of GHS football at Ridgerunner Stadium.

The stadium has seen a myriad of changes in the areas outside the playing lines over the years. Recent upgrades include scoreboard, 25-second clocks, guest bleachers, and reserved stadium seating.

A constant at Ridgerunner Stadium through the years has been competitive GHS football. One story illustrates the similarities between the early years of the field and today.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1963 the Ridgerunners hosted Jenks in an afternoon playoff game.

The Tulsa team rushed to a 19-0 lead at one point before Grove staged some last quarter heroics to pull out the 20-19 victory.

Contemporary reports of the game from The Grove Sun stated that fans could not read the scoreboard during the game as the daylight bleached out the lights.

There was no such problem with the Bank of grove scoreboard last season when the Ridgerunners faced off against Star Spencer in a day time round two playoff game.

Like the the thrilling finish from ’63, the ’08 Ridgerunners staged a second-half comeback and then a strong, late defensive stand to defeat the Oklahoma City team by a score of 15-14.

Both games mark the only occasions that the Ridgerunners have hosted a daytime playoff contest.

Kickoff for tonight’s game is slated for 7:30 p.m.