Ouachita Christian head football coach Steven Fitzhugh never saw it coming.
By halftime of Friday night’s season opener against Arcadia, word was pretty much out that OCS’ new turf football field would bear the coach’s name. Yet, somehow, in a socially-media driven society where there are few secrets anymore, Fitzhugh was the last person to find out.
Accompanied by his family — wife Janna and children Grant, Will, Ellie Kate and Maddox — and the football team, coach Fitzhugh made his way to the field for the halftime ceremony. Even then, he had no idea what was about to happen.
First, Kim Stinson, OCS’ athletic coordinator, was presented with a well-deserved plaque. When called to midfield by Micah Harper, the school’s longtime baseball and football coach and athletic director, Fitzhugh thought he was about to receive another plaque for his office wall.
Instead, Fitzhugh listened in disbelief as Harper proclaimed in Harper’s patented style that the new field needed a name.
Welcome to Steven Fitzhugh Field.
“It was definitely a surprise and a shock,” Fitzhugh said. “It was humbling. There were a lot of people involved in making this new turf field happen. This field was about 10 years in the making. It’s a blessing, blessing, blessing.”
Seconds later, a large “Steven Football Field” banner was unveiled.
In hindsight, Fitzhugh can probably see some signs that he should have known something was up. But the completion of the field at mid-week and preparing for the game were enough to keep him distracted.
Even with more family coming in for the game than normal from the Dallas and Houston areas, Fitzhugh was never tipped off. While they may not all make it for the same game, nearly everyone on hand typically attends at least one game every year.
“I didn’t know Janna’s family was coming in from Houston until I saw them in the stands before the game, but it wasn’t unusual that they were here. They drive up and catch Will’s games sometimes,” Fitzhugh said.
Having both of his sons on hand made the night even more special for Fitzhugh. Grant is a sophomore defensive back for Harding University, his dad’s alma mater, while Will is a senior running back/safety for the Eagles.
“Grant was able to come in since Harding played Thursday night,” Fitzhugh said. “This may be the only time he gets to see Will play all year.”
Growing up, the OCS football facilities were a second home for the Fitzhugh brothers.
“Both of my boys have been out here through the years toting paint while we painted the field, too,” Fitzhugh said.
It is fitting that the new field was named after Fitzhugh, who is now in his 22nd season as the Eagles’ head coach and his 26th year at the school. Since succeeding Harper as head football coach, Fitzhugh has guided the Eagles to four state championships and 193 victories.
Painting the field the night before a game is one task that Fitzhugh can remove from his to do list, and he certainly won’t miss having to move or cancel sub-varsity games due to the weather.
“We probably won’t really appreciate it until the next time it rains,” Fitzhugh said. “We won’t have to cancel anymore junior high or JV games because we don’t have to worry about the field getting torn up anymore.
“Last year in the playoffs, we had to move six of our practices. Carroll was gracious enough to let us use their field for three of them, and the others we had in the gym. It’s really going to help us with our practices.”
Others sports will benefit, too.
“We had to move eight home soccer games because of field conditions last year,” Fitzhugh said. “The soccer team couldn’t have Thursday night home games because that was the night we painted the field. I told Newt Goings, our soccer coach, ‘Play all the Thursday games you want.’
“A couple of yers ago, our baseball team wasn’t able to practice for three weeks because we had so much rain they couldn’t even get in the outfield. All of our teams can come out on the football field now and at least do some drills.”
Besides the OCS logos, emblems from five of the project’s major sponsors — Rimcor, Trinity Diamonds, Hike Humber Ice Center, Ludwig Marine and Dreher Construction — were prominently painted on the field.
“Those five sponsors really did a lot to make this happen so quickly,” Fitzhugh said.
Kim Stinson, who coordinated a yearly auction since 2013, was also a driving force in turning the new surface into a reality.
“The auctions brought in over $500,000,” Fitzhugh said. “No person wrote a single check to cover it all. This was a total team effort.”
The total team effort carried over onto the field as the Eagles rewarded their fans with a 49-14 shellacking of Arcadia.
“I certainly did not expect a 35-0 first quarter,” Fitzhugh said. “That was as near-perfect of a first quarter as you could get. Offense, defense, special teams — all three phases played great against a very talented Arcadia team that is going to win some ballgames this year. The guys were excited about the new turf and started off strong.”
Dillon Dougan ran 60 yards on the second play from scrimmage for the first touchdown on the new carpet. Hunter Herring threw to Will Fitzhugh for the first touchdown pass and James Forte made the first tackle.
“I told the ref he was the first person to throw a flag on this field. Then he started throwing too many flags, and I told him he needed to slow it down,” Fitzhugh joked.
At halftime, Fitzhugh became the first person to be blindsided when the field was named in his honor.