Officials: Wheeling Island Stadium Is Safer Than Ever

Photo by Casey Junkins Wheeling Park Patriots and Super Six equipment manager Sarge Cordery prepares a locker for the Polar Bears of Fairmont High School prior to the team’s Friday game versus the Beavers of Bluefield High School.

WHEELING — As football fans entered Wheeling Island Stadium for the West Virginia Super Six High School Football Championship games this weekend, most probably failed to recognize the sections where concrete panels broke and plummeted to the ground earlier this year.

That’s because Ohio County Board of Education officials agreed to spend $407,000 for a substantial renovation project, which called for installing three new concrete panels at the top of the stadium, as well as new galvanized steel supports installed to secure the all the panels to the seating areas.

“It’s amazing. They aren’t going anywhere now,” Wheeling Park High School Athletic Director Dwaine Rodgers said of the sturdy new panels and braces.

The action began Friday with the Class AA state championship game between Bluefield and Fairmont Senior. Saturday, Martinsburg faced Spring Valley in the Class AAA game, while Wheeling Central Catholic played St. Marys in the Class A contest.

“Fans entering Wheeling Island Stadium won’t notice much of a change from last year. They will see the supports on the panels around the stadium, but that’s it. The Super Six wouldn’t be held here it there were any safety issues,” Ohio County Schools Maintenance Director Brian Harto said Friday.

However, this scene was far from the minds of those on hand during the spring. The trouble began on April 14, when school officials found damage to one of the concrete panels at the top of the seating section on the side of the stadium closest to Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.

Three days later, contractors arrived at the stadium with the plan of pulling the damaged panel down by crane. When the crane pulled the damaged panel loose, an adjacent panel plummeted to the ground unexpectedly. This resulted in a dramatic crash through the fence that surrounds the stadium.

For about four months, there was hole at the top of the stadium created by the missing panels, while the panels themselves were left where they had landed on April 17. Now, the old panels, as well as a third panel on which officials found damage, have been discarded. In their place are brand new concrete panels.

“There was no way to predict what happened. Mother Nature is tough here,” Rodgers said of the multiple floods that have overtaken Wheeling Island through the years, as well as winter deep freezes.

“Our kids are very fortunate to have such a facility,” he added.

Due to the Wheeling Park Patriots played this year’s first “home” game on the campus of West Liberty University, resulting in a win over the rival Brooke Bruins. Earlier in the summer, the annual OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game between high school seniors from Ohio and West Virginia had to move across the Ohio River to Martins Ferry because of the Wheeling stadium problems.

However, the Patriots played their home games at the stadium for the remainder of the season, as the facility reopened in September.

“It’s great for our community, and we are pleased to host the Super Six. Ohio County Schools, its maintenance staff and individuals such as Brian Harto and Dwaine Rodgers do a lot of hard work and take great pride in making sure the Super Six is an wonderful event,” school Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones added.