EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — A picture perfect night for high school football in Northeast Ohio meant something entirely different for the alumni and faithful fans of the Shaw High School Cardinals in East Cleveland. A new chapter in the school’s storied history was opened Friday night as the football team played their first game at the newly rebuilt Shaw Stadium.
Built on the site that hosted the earliest days of what would eventually become the Cleveland Browns franchise, the 4,000 seat stadium opened to the public on Friday night. Poetically, the first game at the new stadium was also homecoming.
The Cleveland Browns, National Football League, East Cleveland Schools as well as other partners helped to fund the $7 million makeover of Shaw Stadium.
“For the city of East Cleveland, it’s a new beginning and it’s something for us to be proud of. That’s why we’re all here to help support what’s going forward,” said Patrick Brandon, a 1983 alum of Shaw High School. “We love our community.”
The gravity of the moment — and what it means to the city — wasn’t lost on East Cleveland coach, Reggie Smith.
“Every kid from East Cleveland deserves this opportunity. I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Smith said. “It’s a blessing for these guys. I’m emotional right now but I’m gonna keep it together. We want the community to come back and support us. Our motto this year is to believe. If we can get everybody to believe, we’re going to be just fine around here.”
In April, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam and Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski were on hand for the groundbreaking of the new stadium. Through storms and heat waves, construction crews managed to functionally complete the stadium despite the accelerated timeline. The brand new synthetic turf emblazoned with the Shaw Cardinals logo as well as the new scoreboard featuring the Browns logo drew spectators in.
For alumni, it didn’t take long to feel at home.
“I used to be a ball boy,” said Trayvon Davis. “I really don’t have the words for this. For the community of East Cleveland to have this, it’s a beautiful thing.”
For some alumni that took the field back in the early and mid-1980s, the new stadium means something more. Over the decades, the city of East Cleveland has undoubtedly had to endure disinvestment, crime and dwindling populations. They are still ever prideful, despite it all.
And ever hopeful, too.
“The pride for the alumni says we didn’t tear up our community. You guys that are younger adults don’t have to tear up your community either,” said Bill Aden, the 1985 Shaw High School homecoming king. “What you see out here is guys that might have had issues with each other in the 80s but we still come together. We want to show the 18, 19, 20-year-olds that they can do the same thing. Twenty years from now this is going to be your community.”
And it feels good to be home.