Tarleton State University kicked off its $26.4 million renovation and expansion of Memorial Stadium Saturday night with a special pregame event that included all the fanfare of a traditional groundbreaking minus the shovels and dirt.

President F. Dominic Dottavio, A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, special guests and Tarleton officials threw turf pellets onto a state-of-the-art CoolPlay field surface installed this summer.

 More than 400 student athletes and spirit group members joined them and Tarleton’s marching band, The Sound & The Fury, on the field for the ceremony. There were fireworks and lots of Texan-style hat throwing, hand clapping and foot stomping.

Part of Family Weekend activities, the event marked another milestone in Tarleton’s centennial celebration as founding member of The Texas A&M University System.

When work is completed, the stadium will boast an improved press box, suites, entrances and ticket booths as well as premium seats with chair backs and enhanced concession facilities. Overall stadium seating increases to more than 9,000, and west side stands will be converted for home fans. Track-and-field surfaces will get updates as part of the renovation.

“This project reflects the continuing increase in the quality and number of programs, facilities and students at Tarleton in recent years,” Dottavio said. “This is another milestone in our centennial celebration as a member of the A&M System and a reminder of the important role Memorial Stadium has played in the history of the university and the life of the Stephenville community.”

The Texas Legislature authorized $24 million for the project, and longtime Texas entrepreneur Mike A. Myers—a Tarleton Distinguished Alumnus—gave $2.4 million this past spring. Other Texan fans are following his lead, with additional donations earmarked for special features to enhance the fan experience.

As a result of Myers’ gift, Memorial Stadium’s west side will be named for Tarleton Athletic Director Lonn Reisman, credited with creating one of the strongest sports programs in the NCAA. Since moving from NAIA ranks to NCAA Division II in 1994, Tarleton consistently has placed in the top 25 polls and qualified for national playoffs in every sport.

Built in the 1940s as a tribute to the 179 Tarleton faculty, staff and students who died in World War II, Memorial Stadium opened in 1951. A major reconstruction took place in 1977, when current features were added. Seating was expanded in 1989, the concession stand remodeled, the field house built and track-and-field facilities renovated.
The new project should be completed for the first kickoff in 2018. Construction is not expected to significantly impact games this season for the Texans or the Stephenville High School Yellow Jackets.