Before 1918, there was only one high school in Evansville. But in the next six years, three new high schools sprung into existence: F.J. Reitz, Benjamin Bosse, and Reitz Memorial.
At the time, football was not nearly as popular as baseball. But that didn’t stop Bosse and Reitz from constructing beautiful stadiums for football on their respective campuses. Those stadiums are now Evansville landmarks, though one of them is about to undergo a major renovation.
The Reitz Bowl and Enlow Field were born out of necessity. In 1921, it became mandatory that students remain in school until their 16th birthday. That caused a sudden spike in enrollment, and more of those students turned to athletics. Games quickly became community gatherings.
Reitz teacher Jon Carl played for the Panthers in the late 1980s. He says the experience of running out into the bowl in front of 10,000 spectators is something players never forget.
“I grew up coming to games in the bowl, as a West Side kid who wanted to play for Reitz,” says Carl. “It was always a special place. It was a place of excitement on Friday nights. And playing there when the bowl is packed, that is special. You don’t get many chances as a high school player to play in that kind of facility, that kind of environment.”
When Reitz High School was completed in 1918, it sat atop what was formerly known as Coal Mine Hill. Designers originally called for a large retaining wall, but quickly realized it could be something more. So in 1921, workers broke ground on a uniquely shaped bowl stadium.
For the 1921 season, it could hold just a bit more than 3,500 spectators. But by 1922, the bowl was complete, though it had cost more than $52,000, about $30,000 more than originally estimated.
Reitz Bowl began using artificial lights in 1931. A new field house was added later in the decade, and it was later replaced in 1987. Most of the bowl’s mud and flooding woes were solved in 1976, with the installation of Prescription Athletic Turf. The first play clocks were added in 1995, and a new sound system came online in 2003. Finally, in May of 2009, the natural grass was replaced with synthetic turf.
The bowl created some unique issues. For several years following a 1974 renovation, the running track cut into the southeast end zone. Today, the track is gone, replaced by a facility in Howell Park.
“Part of the draw is that it has been there so long,” says Carl. “It has been there now for more than nine decades. There are very few people who are alive who can remember before the bowl was there. If you grew up on the West Side, it has been there your whole life.”
Reitz Bowl was named after Evansville businessman and philanthropist Francis J. Reitz. Over the years, it has been used as a home stadium for Reitz and Mater Dei high schools, as well as the University of Evansville.
In 1922, one year after the Reitz Bowl opened, construction began at a new East Side high school. Then, stunningly, Evansville’s popular 47-year-old mayor, Benjamin Bosse, died after a brief illness. The new high school, which Bosse had helped fund, later was named after him.
But since Evansville already had Bosse Field, constructed in 1915, the football field needed its own name. The choice was Charles Enlow — or C.B., as he preferred friends call him — a local banker and newspaper executive. He also was on the school board, where he was a major proponent of sports activities.
In fact, Enlow — who had been orphaned at a young age — was able to help pay his way through Ohio State University by playing football. Enlow also was deeply involved in other aspects of the Tri-State as a Hadi Shriner, Mason, and the Vanderburgh County Defense Coordinator during World War II.
Built in just a few months in 1926, the grandstand at Enlow Field was designed by architect Charles Troutman at a cost of $30,000. Since the running track was already in place, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest the track’s infield was already known as Enlow Field before the grandstand’s construction.
Enlow Field was dedicated Oct. 29, 1926, in a game against Reitz. Interestingly, the Evansville Press referred to the teams playing that night as the West High Panthers and the East High Bison. Bosse (or East) won 6-0.
Current Bosse Athletic Director Larry Cochren says the covered grandstand on the home side of Enlow Field makes it unique.
“You don’t see stadiums like that anymore,” says Cochren. “And I think the aesthetics of the building and how it matches up with the high school, with the brick layout, I think that makes it a very unique venue.”
On July 28 of this year, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. announced that Enlow Field was going to be renamed Owen Stadium, in honor of longtime Bosse football coach Archie Owen. With a 23-year record of 111-99-13, he is the only Bosse football coach with 60 or more wins.
With the renaming, the facility also will undergo a major renovation, at a cost of $5 million to $6 million. The grandstand roof, part of the original design, will be taken down. The field itself will keep the Enlow Field name.
Over the years, Enlow Field has been the home field for Bosse, Memorial and Harrison high schools. Harrison opened its own home field, Romain Stadium, in 2011. Cochren says Enlow Field is showing signs of age and is in need of a major renovation.
“It needs to be replaced,” he says. “It has been great, and it has served its purpose. You’re talking almost 90 years. You can imagine with the concrete is doing, and we’re constantly needing to fix things.”
The two football fields have some shared history, and they should. That’s because the men they were named after were, in fact, close friends. Reitz recruited Enlow to City National Bank in Evansville, and eventually passed the business to him upon Reitz’s retirement in 1924.