Field of Teams: Watertown says goodbye to 88 years of memories at Robinson Stadium
Dec 15, 2015 at 11:36 AM
Friday night marked the final game to ever be played at the current Robinson Stadium in Watertown.
Built in 1926, the field Watertown High School calls home will only live on in memories in the future, with the school moving to a new location set to open next fall.
After the land was purchased in 2011 for around $515,000, local firm Kaatz, Binkley Jones and Morris, Architects, Inc., created the design for the school, which was estimated to cost around $37 million.
The site of the new school is located just past downtown Watertown on Neal Road and ground broke in September of last year, with R.G. Anderson Construction tasked to build the future school.
According to the plans, the new football stadium should seat around 2,000 fans.
For Friday’s farewell game at Robinson Stadium, the Purple Tigers played host to Jo Byrns.
Ken Fountain, who graduated from Watertown in 1970, played football there from 1968-70, served as an assistant football coach, as well as several other sports, and currently is the public address announcer for Watertown, said the history of Watertown football runs deep.
Flash back to more than eight, actually closer to nine, decades ago when on Thursday, Sept. 30, 1926, the first Watertown High School football team in school history suited up to play their first game, which, fittingly, was a home game.
Watertown played Shop Springs and Fountain said back then there were no lights so most games were usually played in the afternoon, and a lot of times on Thursdays.
According to Fountain, lights weren’t added to the field until Sept. 29, 1939, when Watertown played its first night game against Woodbury.
Newer lights were added in the late 1990s and remain there now.
Prior to Friday’s game, the field, which Fountain said has been named Alumni Field since its inception, has held 419 home games for Watertown. In those 419 games, Watertown won 262 times, lost 145 times and tied their opponents 12 times.
One memorable game at Alumni Field took place Oct. 21, 1939 and proved to hold the largest margin of victory for Watertown in history. In that game, the hometown team pounded Gordonsville in an impressive 74-0 outing.
How the school got their nickname the Tigers, may be a different story.
Fountain, who’s been an announcer since 1998, said he believed “Tigers” caught on after an incident in 1929.
“Watertown went and played the Murfreesboro Central Tigers, and they got beat pretty handily, so the paper referred to the Watertown team playing more like Tigers than the Murfreesboro Central team,” Fountain said.
Color-wise, apparently in the late 1920s or early 1930s, the school librarian was asked to choose what the school’s colors should be. Obviously, she chose the colors purple and white to represent the school, which still has Watertown fans bleeding purple to this day.
“She picked purple because purple is the color of royalty,” Fountain said.
As far as the field being called Tiger Stadium, Fountain said that has never been an official name, and he believed broadcasters and the news simply referred to the field as such.
Ten years ago next Thursday [Oct. 17, 2003], the school named the stadium Robinson Stadium, dedicating the name to the Robinson family, namely Brownie and Bill Robinson, who made such a dramatic impact to the school.
Fountain said Brownie came from Macon County around 1963 and stayed until his retirement in 1974.
Bill then succeeded his father coaching, starting in 1975 and coaching on and off until 2004.
According to Fountain, Bill “did a little bit of it all,” coaching football, girls and boys basketball, baseball and softball.
“He’s done a lot up there, that family has really made an impact on the school,” Fountain said.
In 2005, Bill’s son-in-law and present coach Gavin Webster took over as head coach for the Purple Tigers.
Between the years of 1960-83, the field held 22 Lions Bowl games out on by the Watertown Lions Club.
Fountain said Watertown was one of three hosts for the bowl.
The field also gets use from more that just the high school, according to Fountain, with the junior pros peewee league starting to use the field in 1979 and the junior high school team also playing there.
And the field’s use hasn’t been limited to football.
Kellie Pickler fans all over the world have seen the stadium, even if they had no idea of its location, on the 2006 video of her song “Red High Heels,” which was partially filmed on the field, complete with the painted “W” on the 50-yard line and the “Robinson Stadium Home of the Purple Tigers” sign beyond the north end zone.
Up until 1968 the stadium boasted wooden bleachers, but Fountain said that changed in 1969 when they built and put in the concrete bleachers that still stand presently.
Fountain, who helped with the building process in ’69, said a construction crew from Lafayette hired some of the football players to help in the labor.
Before the construction, Fountain said there was no press box, only a small building on the west side where the late Edsel Floyd did his broadcasts as longtime announcer for the Purple Tigers.
Being somewhat of a figurehead in Watertown lore, Floyd served as the mayor and postmaster in his lifetime, among several other things.
Floyd played for Watertown in 1944 and 1945.
For 37 years, Floyd was known as “the voice of the Purple Tigers,” serving as announcer for numerous sports.
To this day, Floyd is referred to in the community as “Mr. Watertown.”
Though the field has stood for 88 years, it has only three times ever held a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoff game. Fountain said this is due to the fact that several additions to the field brought it out of TSSAA regulation.
Fountain said the field was shortened in several ways after the school built a gymnasium in 1938 and hedges were added in 1956.
After the addition of the gym, Fountain said the field was shortened because a road was added to make a way to get to the new gym.
“That road wasn’t always there. Adding that tiny road kind of confined everything,” Fountain said.
In 1956, principal Ernest Cotten and coach Dee Harris then planted hedges in the south end zone, bringing them back from Cotten’s farm.
The hedges then grew out and covered some of the end zone, prompting TSSAA to mark the field as not within regulation.
Fountain said the hedges only took up about 1 yard of the end zone and, but made the space 9 yards instead of the mandatory 10.
“They’d still paint the line at the 10-yard mark, but it would be under the hedges sort of,” Fountain said.
This issue provoked locals to call home games as being “played behind the hedges.”
Around 2006, however, the school took measures to alter the troublesome hedges.
Fountain said by that time trees had also grown in the hedges, making it difficult to trim, and he had spent years trimming them.
They then took down the old fence, cut up the hedges and put in an aluminum culvert beneath the sidewalk for water to run through. This allowed them to extend the field out, put a new fence up and re-add the hedges, all while making the field official and regulatory.
During that time, though, they couldn’t play at home. Watertown has held “home” playoff games in town.
Fountain said in 1976 Watertown had to play St. Andrews on Lebanon’s field and, after winning, then advanced to the second round to play Darwin County on Mt. Juliet’s field.
The first hosted home playoff game came in 1985 against Monterey. A first-round victory brought Ezell-Harding to town the following week. Though Watertown went on the road for numerous playoff trips in ensuing years, the Tigers didn’t play host to another home playoff game until last year against Cascade.
Watertown was also the first team in Wilson County to make a playoff. This came in 1971, as the team went 10-0 in the regular season and played Collierville in the playoffs.
Fountain said he believed the first homecoming game came in 1938 and prior to that was known as “football sponsors.”
“They had a competition to raise money for the football team and then whoever raised the most was the ‘football sponsor’ and would go around with the team and the sponsor would exchange flowers with each team,” Fountain said.
Friday at halftime the school opened the field to former players, cheerleaders, coaches and anyone associated with Watertown football to commemorate the last home game ever at the facility.
Fountain said he, as well as the community, thought of the field as the center of town.
Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings, who played for the Purple Tigers from 1969-71, also said the same.
“It’s going to be strange next year,” Jennings said. “Every Friday night in the fall this is the center of community.”
Jennings went on to add the passion fans have for Watertown football.
“People love Watertown football. The bleachers are always full, you have people walk there on game nights, it’s just a community event on Fridays,” Jennings said. “And I dare say, not many community events have ever been scheduled to conflict with Friday night football.”
Jennings said he’d be sad to see the field go, but at the same time he felt the new school was “a tremendous lift for the community.”
“We’re all excited to have the new school and have a new, great Watertown High School to educate our children,” Jennings said.
Jennings said he remembered one memory about the field that would last forever.
“I remember when I was playing the field and stadium would have so many people not only inside it but around it, around the fences,” Jennings said.
He said he recalled coming through the north end to take the field and fans being lined up three and four people deep to watch.
“People would have to stop to let us through there were so many people,” Jennings said.
According to Jennings, as he and other players came through to take the field he remembered the wads of fans and how they would slap the players on the back or scream and cheer for the team.
“I have very fond memories of that during my playing days, that was something that always made an impression on me, just how all of those people came out just to see us play,” Jennings said. “I think people will always remember the days played at this field.”