By JOANNE FOX
The Briar Cliff University football program is returning to its roots this fall, when it shifts its games back to Memorial Field in Sioux City, thanks to an agreement between the university and Bishop Heelan Catholic High School.
“We believe this is a major step forward for our football program,” said Briar Cliff President Dr. Hamid Shirvani at a June 22 press conference at Memorial Field. “We are happy to partner with Bishop Heelan in the process of turning Memorial Field into a first-class facility.”
Briar Cliff played its first season of intercollegiate varsity football in 2003 and called Memorial Field – which Heelan owns – its home for 10 years. For the past four years, the Chargers played their football games at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, S.D.
The move from Vermillion to Sioux City was made possible by a shared vision between Briar Cliff and Bishop Heelan to implement an $800,000 improvement to Memorial Field. Donors to Heelan and BCU conducted a private drive to raise the needed funds.
Heelan President James Tschann explained the gridiron’s natural grass field will be transformed with new field turf this summer, just in time for both schools’ football seasons.
“We are thankful to the many benefactors who have made this possible, particularly Leonard Gill and Irving Jensen,” he said. “Our schools have been blessed by their continued support.”
Gill, owner of a landfill and hauling business in Jackson, Neb., and a 1953 graduate of Heelan High School, insisted Jensen, retired construction company owner, was the key to having the improvements take place.
“Irving really was the driving force behind this for Heelan, despite him not being Catholic,” Gill said. “Of course, even when I was a member of the Briar Cliff board for nine years, I told them repeatedly, ‘Keep in mind, I’m a Heelan grad.’ That’s my first priority, too.”
Excavating has been in process to set up the field for installation of all-weather synthetic, rubberized surface by Midwest FieldTurf of Denison. The company, which installs synthetic grass systems and tracks in the tri-state area, also installed a new track at Memorial Field about 16 months ago.
For the Charger football program, having a place to call home and reducing travel to other facilities for both practice and competition was the right decision, said Briar Cliff Director of Athletics Nic Nelson.
“In bringing our team back to campus full-time for practice and by playing on a beautiful, new, artificial turf surface, we think we’ve really increased our football program’s opportunity to compete at a high level in the GPAC,” he added, referring to BCU’s membership in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
The field has been used by Heelan High’s football players, junior high football players, boys soccer, girls soccer, marching band and dance squad members. BCU will play all its football home games, preseason scrimmage, junior varsity contests and Friday practices on the field.
The Chargers will open their season with a pair of road games before hosting Dakota State, Sept. 9 at Memorial Field. Heelan begins its 2017 home football schedule Sept. 1 when it hosts Carroll.