LAUREL - It was close, with a few last sections of concrete poured, set and dried Friday morning, but Laurel's new sports complex was finally christened Friday night with a 48-21 win over Cody, Wyo.
After more than five years, a grass-roots, door-to-door effort and several voter initiatives, the Laurel Locomotives football team took to the new field for its first game of the season.
The Laurel High School Sports Complex features a brand-new football field of artificial turf, track facilities, a new video screen and scoreboard and seating for about 4,500 fans.
"It's going to be a great asset to the Laurel community," sophomore Mike Marstaeller said. "Everybody's excited."
Marstaeller, sporting a bright yellow wig and a Laurel cross-country T-shirt, was just one of the cheering, hollering fans who packed the stadium for its inaugural use. By 6:30 p.m., the stands were more than half full. An hour later, fans had nearly filled the place, and more were steadily filtering in.
Laurel Middle School students Lauren Studiner and Kayla Nielsen, both 13, said the new facilities will be good for everybody in town. They said they are especially excited about the new track.
"You could barely run on the old one," Lauren said.
But it took a lot of work to get there.
Work on building the complex began in 2004, when Laurel voters rejected a $4.68 million bond proposal to improve the football field and track. Grass-roots efforts to raise the money continued until 2007, when the project ran out of steam.
In September 2008, the issue was again taken to the voters, and they approved a $3.867 million bond issue to build it.
"It has come out even better than I imagined it," Laurel Superintendent Josh Middleton said. "The really important thing is this community has gotten behind so many of our school initiatives. It really took a community effort to make this happen."
In addition to school sports, such as football and soccer, the facilities can be used for such events as state track meets and championships. Residents can also use it for walking and jogging.
Diana Holland spent the first part of Friday night's game selling 50-50 tickets to raise money for a graduation party for the senior class. Her daughter, Jenna Giles, is a cheerleader and is scheduled to graduate from Laurel in 2010. She said it's been satisfying to watch the project come to fruition.
"It is indescribably amazing," she said. "We have a state-of-the-art facility right here in Laurel, Montana."
While the first game was played at the complex Friday night, some work remains, including finishing the track, completing the area underneath the bleachers and installing more sinks in the bathrooms, said Herb Tonsend, Laurel's activities director.
The grand opening ceremony will be held at the Sept. 18 homecoming game.