Walton Field to receive royal send-off before Battle of Bridge game

Oct. 27—AUBURN — For the past 88 years, Edward Little football coaches, players and fans alike felt right at home in the comfy confines of Walton Field.

Walton Field is known for its intimacy that offers spectators an opportunity to watch a game from a chain-linked fence that surrounds the field — which is located behind Walton School and has been home to the Red Eddies football team since 1935.

Friday's Battle of the Bridge between Edward Little and Lewiston will be the final time the two rivals will meet at Walton. Starting next fall, all Red Eddies home games will be held at their modern digs at the brand new Edward Little High School come next fall.

Bim Gibson has been acting as a self-appointed historian as Edward Little plans to hold a sendoff for Walton before the 7 p.m. Battle of the Bridge game begins. He has been posting highlights of the field's storied past on several Facebook sites, including Growing Up in Auburn, the Edward Little Grandstanding Club, the Edward Little page and his personal Facebook page.

Gibson said Friday night's bon voyage party is a worthwhile endeavor. He has compiled long lists of statistics of Edward Little's home turf, including the Red Eddies' current record at Walton — 224 wins, 180 losses and nine ties.

"I think it means a lot to a lot of people," he said. "Any thought that I had that it had to be true has been reinforced since I have been putting the blogs on Facebook about the top 20 moments ever at Walton Field. As you know, I wrote the book (about) the history of EL-Lewiston football, so I had a lot of notes, anyway, from research when I did that. As I started to post them, it was amazing. I would be getting easily 100 responses every single day from a lot of ex-players."

Gibson, an Auburn schoolteacher, said helping out the football parents club with the Walton project is not a chore.

"Well, I mean I grew up in Auburn ..." Gibson said. "I have been coming to games here since the early 1970s. I think one of the first memories I have is ... watching the EL teams of the early '70s. They won the state championship in 1972. My dad brought me to those games. I was 10 years old. So I fell in love with EL football.

"I was lucky enough to play for (Lawrence Richard) Doc Hersom for three years. We won two state championships, in my sophomore and junior year. So that was a lot of fun to be part of those teams."

Gibson has served as the public address announcer for the Red Eddies' home games since 1991.

"So I have announced 135 home games at Walton," he said. "So I was kind of joking that I had actually seen 190 games here before I was announcing and since I have been announcing plus when I played, which is 46 percent of the games that have been played at Walton Field since 1935. I thought that was funny."

FIELD OF TRIBUTES

Victoria Langelier, who is spearheading the Walton Field event for the Edward Little parents football club, said about 116 Red Eddie football alumni have registered to attend the celebration.

"They are going to have the current team line a tunnel at Walton Field to usher in our alumni back on to the field for one last time," she said. "Then we are going to be announcing every alumni that is on the field along with any of the alumni that are currently deployed, and from there, we are going to have another alum actually sing the national anthem.

"Then all of alumni will gather with our team and will do the last huddle of Walton Field. ... The game time is 7 o'clock so we are gonna be getting everything started about 6:15, 6:30."

The itinerary begins with alumni checking in at The Grandstanding Club under a large Edward Little athletic tent from 5:30 to 6 p.m. The football team departs from Edward Little for Walton with an Auburn fire and police escort at 5:30 p.m.

"(Walton) has been a huge staple in the community for a long time," she said. "We have alumni traveling across states to be here for it and actually we have one alum that is from the class of 1956 that will be attending. So we are seeing a lot of the community coming back to Walton because it is such a positive point for the school and the community."

Brian Dubois, who played for the Red Eddies in the 1980s and is also a member of the Edward Little football parents club, said it is time to move on even though he enjoyed playing at Walton. He added that other schools have also installed better athletic facilities over the years.

"The kids here, they go to these other programs (and) they see what kind of other facilities are available," Dubois said. "They think, 'Why don't we have that? What's up with our town? Are we not deserving? Are we not worthy?'"

But Dubois said those fond memories of playing football at Walton will remain with him.

"I love the atmosphere (at Walton)," Dubois, a 1988 Edward Little graduate, said. "It was an intimate setting. You know, it was a different era back then. A lot people attended the games. It was the thing to do (unlike) today where there are a lot distractions."

Former Edward Little and Lewiston coach Darren Hartley is an ardent admirer of Walton Field.

"I think it is the greatest place to play a high school football game in the history of the state of Maine," Hartley, who coached the Red Eddies for four years, said. "It is confined. Everybody is close to you. It is nostalgic. It is not a perfect field. Nothing about it is perfect. It is in a old neighborhood. You can just smell the history walking through the gate at Walton Field.

"From the oddities of kicking extra points on top of the school building or down on the banking on the other end (of the field), knowing that Doc Hersom coached there for all those years and had so much success, so many great players ..."

Hartley, whose son, Grant, played quarterback for Edward Little, recalled going to games as a child and compared Walton to Libby Field in Turner as places a fan can get right up on the field to take in a football game.

"It is just an incredible, incredible place, and I think they are going to miss it terribly when it is gone," Hartley said.

Gene Keene played for Hersom and coached the Red Eddies for six years. His fondest, childhood memory of Walton was how his dad would give him $2 to go to an Edward Little home game, but he knew of a hole in the fence. He would sneak in and spend the the money at the concessions.

"I don't look back very often," Keene said. "I have always been a person who looks forward in my career, in my life and everything else. Obviously there is some fond memories not just from coaching or playing (for EL) ... Walton Field has been a wonderful facility for the kids of Auburn, but I am so excited for the kids who are going to be playing for the new facility that will (have) artificial turf. It will be well-lighted.

"I think the new facility is going to help the (Edward Little's football) program become more competitive because kids will want to go out there and play on that. Yeah, we are going to miss Walton Field and all the history and everything that happened there, but all good things must come to an end, and I think the kids of Auburn are going to have a great opportunity to play on a great facility."

Although Walton Field will remain and be used for other purposes, current Edward Little coach Rick Kramer said Walton's atmosphere is unique.

"I like the setting that's in my town," he said. "It is part of the community. If you live in that local area of New Auburn, you can't not know that there is a game going on."

Kramer said it will be better to have the football field next to the school.

"It doesn't feel like a high school field because it is not at school. (But Walton) feels like, 'Hey, this is the heart of the community and this the place where we always played,'" he said.

Kramer, however, said it is time for newer facilities.

"It would be really nice if we had bathrooms with plumbing," Kramer said. "It would be really nice if we had water that we could access and not have to pipe it over from the building. We were just at Scarborough this weekend and the kids ... were like, 'Is our school going to be like this?' I said, 'It is even better.' It is going to be an incredible, the new facility,'"

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Edward Little athletic director Todd Sampson said there will be a sports complex right where the track is as part of the new school.

"We will play soccer, field hockey, football, lacrosse. We will run track meets there," Sampson said. "It will be a multi-purpose competition field. It is going to be huge. It is so exciting."

Sampson said if all goes well, the complex will be ready by Aug. 15, 2023 — right around the time preseason practices for fall sports begin.

Sampson said that like the Walton sendoff there will be a similar a celebration for the final basketball game at Edward Little's gym.

"As much as people are looking forward to the new building, I think the folks ... know how special Walton Field was and how special our gym is," Sampson said. "It is going to be hard, but hopefully all the new bells and whistles are going to make up for all of the nostalgia.

"(Walton) was special in 1977 and 1990, but because the other facilities have gone by us, (the field) doesn't have what it takes to run a Class A program anymore."