A full moon, orange with the impending harvest, rose over a set of condos on the eastern bank to gaze across the Mississippi River at the setting sun, splendid in hues of lavender. This early-September day had been warm but the night air was just cool enough that fans started to pull on their DeLaSalle sweatshirts. A few of the frustrated neighbors ran to find light jackets in the front closets of their nearby homes. Together, we were all gathered on Nicollet Island to witness the opening football game in DeLaSalle new sports’ field.
Shortly after kick-off, a train sounded warning bells as it chugged past the new stadium, an airplane’s roar stopped conversation for a moment, and an ambulance siren screeched from the distance. Clearly, we were in the middle of a city. The stadium was also loud — a high school band played raucous fight songs, the crowd roared, and an announcer bellowed scores over the loudspeaker.
Neighbors, who for years had fought this new stadium on Nicollet Island, huddled in dismay on a nearby bridge to witness the scene. The evening represented the end of a six-year fight between DeLaSalle High School and some of the area residents over the construction of a football field in a previously vacant lot. Emotions have been high and the issues complicated — stakeholders included historic preservationists, neighborhood associations, alumni boards, the city council, the park board, and lots of teenagers. Accusations of racism, zoning law violations, park-board politics, and elitism got so heated that even the resident island goat weighed in on the debate with his last Facebook entry of, “Who’s that trip-trapping across my bridge?”
I’ve read all the articles with interest but mostly observed this debate from a distance. My father has lived on Nicollet Island for 23 years and I’ve delighted in watching the transformation of the hippy enclave into a breath-taking historic district — resplendent with walking paths, pedestrian street lighting, and well-kept homes. This is truly one of the most unique neighborhoods in America. This year I got closer to the issue when my son enrolled for high school at DeLaSalle. Suddenly, I had a close view of both sides — it was as if I was discussing the war in Iraq and I discovered that one of my parents was Sunni and the other Shiite.
When my son started “De” a few weeks ago, I thought I had better go down to the Island to look at the stadium for myself which at first, I could not find. After walking around the school, I finally realized that the sunken green field with a few bleachers and a small brick building by the railroad track was the stadium. I applaud the preservations who had a hand in camouflaging the field — it worked and is barely noticeable. Ironically, a new cell-phone tower on the other side of the island is more of an eye-soar.
Undoubtedly, on certain fall nights, the stadium will change the hushed quality of Nicollet Island’s residential streets (and even more so for the condos directly across the river from the loud speakers). But as my husband and I wandered the island’s sidewalks during that first game, I thought back to the Iowa City home of my aunt and uncle where on crisp fall days you could hear the roar of the cheering crowd and the drums from the marching band from the University of Iowa stadium. Even though I have never cared about football, that sense of community thrilled me — the spirited cacophony represented a quintessential small-town American experience. I felt lucky to be transported there again.
Jocelyn Hale shares this column with her husband Glenn Miller. They live in the Fulton neighborhood where they occasionally hear the roar from the Southwest High School football stadium.