PIKE ROAD — The greeting stares back from too many light poles with a soothing reminder of where they are. For the first time, when the Pike Road football team heads to the field for its latest game, the Patriots won’t have to see the sign as they drive past. “Welcome home” suddenly has a whole new meaning. The Patriots, in their second year as a varsity team, will finally have a home of their very own. “We’re ready for it,” junior tight end Griffin Robinson said. “We’ve played on everyone else’s field. Now, we have our own.”
Pike Road will christen its new football stadium, complete with an artificial surface that has an NFL past, on Friday when the Patriots (7-0) host Dadeville (1-6). Kickoff is at 7 p.m. There won’t be a pressbox yet — look for coaches to be in construction lifts to get a strategic look at the game — but the new stands are finished, the logos are on the field and the scoreboard awaits Pike’s latest win. “It’s here and it’s awesome,” senior defensive lineman CJ Paymon said Monday. “I go out there every day and look at it. I was out there this morning at 5 o’clock. “We had workouts at 6:15, and I decided to come early and go out on the field.”
The $3 million project will include baseball and softball fields for the Patriots. The school — which will continue to honor its Georgia Washington past — is also undergoing an additional $7 million renovation. There’s work to be done on the football team’s locker room, though that $35,000 is coming from boosters, superintendent Chuck Ledbetter said. Washington’s grave, which is located on the edge of campus, is in line for a more-formal tribute, too. An architectural group from Tuskegee University has made designs. “We want to embrace that legacy,” Ledbetter said, “as well as build our own legacy.”
The most-public foray will be Friday when the 2,500-seat football stadium, including 250 red, chairback seats; the 100,000-square foot field; the special LED Musco lights; and a state-of-the-art sound system debut. ‘It’s going to be beautiful,” coach Patrick Browning said. The first game will mark the end of a four-year process for the Patriots — and, in a way, a 23-year journey for the Town of Pike Road.
The city incorporated in October 1997 and was a mere hamlet of about 350 people. By 2010, there were almost 5,500 people living here. As of July 2018, according to U.S. Census data, the population had swelled to 9,800.
But that’s the city’s story. The school is something else. Pike Road School first opened in 2015 with the oldest students in eighth grade. The Class of 2020 graduates will be the system’s first. In football, the Patriots first started practicing in 2015 with a middle school schedule that fall. Last year was Pike Road’s first as a varsity team. Friday’s first true home game could qualify as Pike Road’s debutante ball. “For those people who invested in us as eighth-graders, for them to be here for the first home game is like the cherry on top of a sundae,” Pike Road Mayor Gordon Stone said. “To be part of the first home game will be something they’ll never forget.”
Having their own stadium promises to be a boon for the Patriots, whose previous “home” games have been at Alabama State or Faulkner. It will become a focal point of community pride and school spirit. “I know it was big for us,” said Mike Turk, who made his home debut as Huntingdon’s football coach in September 2004 with a game at St. James. Huntingdon’s on-campus Samford Stadium, at the old Cloverdale School, opened a month later. “It makes all the difference in the world,” Turk said. “You’re talking about the community coming to your campus. Your players walk out of their locker room and run onto your field. “It’s just a whole different atmosphere.”