An overview of the field’s prominent history in Athens
ATHENS–June marks an important milestone in one of Athens’ most beloved landmarks: the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Bruce Field.
The field is named after the man who donated the property, Dr. William H. Bruce. Dr. Bruce came to Athens in 1896 to serve as principal of a private school that would come to be known as Bruce Academy. Athens had boasted its own high school for a number of years prior to this, but it was not until a few years later, with Dr. Bruce as superintendent, that Athens acquired state accreditation for its public schools.
In 1922, many years after he had gone on to make a name for himself in higher education, Dr. Bruce gave the property to the city as a park, with the intention that it be the home of athletic competition. One hundred years later, that same location is still known throughout East Texas as Bruce Field, home of the Hornets.
Covering the June 1922 dedication ceremony, a Dallas Morning News reporter wrote: “A grandstand with seating capacity of 1,000 is being erected in the park … and will be used for athletics, county fairs, school meets and other events.”
From its dedication in 1922 until 1925, the field served as home for both baseball and football. During a 10-year period from 1925 until 1935, Bruce Field was used only for baseball, while football games were played at a field to the west, near the entrance of what is now the Athens Country Club.
Athens High School’s first drill team was established in 1934. The next year, in 1935, despite the hardships of the Great Depression, Bruce Field was renovated. Not only did football return to the field, but Athens High School debuted its first marching band.
Through at least the 1940s, sheep were used as an effective, if occasionally messy, method for keeping the grass on the field tidely cropped.
Over the years, Bruce Field has served as a meeting place for thousands of people, not only for sporting events, but for a wide variety of community gatherings, such as a defense rally for the troops during World War II, Independence Day fireworks, and even concerts, such as a July 1977 performance by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
Around 1937, Bruce Field became one of the first high school stadiums in Texas to have electric lights. In 1947, Athens ISD allowed what was then known as Henderson County Junior College — now Trinity Valley Community College — to use AISD’s field for the college’s first football team. It’s a relationship that continues to this day.
In 1956, the field’s first electronic scoreboard was dedicated. In 1995, Athens High School added boys soccer to the athletic program, followed in 2004 by the addition of a girls soccer team.
One hundred years after its dedication, Bruce Field can accommodate approximately 4,000 spectators. A century may have elapsed, but the grand purpose of Bruce Field — to bring people together in an act of joyful community — is no less important or powerful today than it ever was.