In the spirit of giving back to the community that has endured for 83 years, the Orange Bowl Committee broke ground Thursday on a Harris Field renovation project that will make the stadium a more comfortable home for dozens of football and soccer teams.
Harris Field has been the hub of Homestead sports for decades and site of the annual South Dade High vs. Homestead High “Battle for Lucy Street” rivalry. State champions Southridge and South Dade have won critical games at the stadium on South Dixie Highway next to the city’s rodeo grounds.
Among those at the groundbreaking was recently retired Super Bowl-winning safety and former University of Miami All-American Antrel Rolle, who grew up playing football in Homestead, where his father, Al, is police chief. The stadium was also the nerve center of rescue and recovery operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
But the frayed facility and balding grass field have been in need of repair, so the Orange Bowl Committee stepped up and donated $2.1 million for new synthetic turf, video scoreboard, sound system, goal posts, concession stands, locker rooms, bathrooms and landscaping.
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“Homestead tends to be the forgotten part of Miami-Dade County,” said Orange Bowl president and chair Michael Chavies. “Here’s a beautiful park in need of improvement and it fits with our vision of building a better South Florida environment and nurturing youth through sports participation.”
Chavies grew up in New Jersey, where every high school had its own field. Harris Field is used by eight high schools. The county’s four dozen high schools play most of their games at eight stadiums.
“When I came to Miami I was amazed to see how one stadium was used by multiple schools,” said Chavies, a litigator for the Akerman law firm and a former circuit court judge. “We do not have enough facilities and our fields are overused and worn out.”
Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter said Harris Field is in such high demand that many youth league football teams can’t use it. The city also has a shortage of soccer fields. The new turf will make it easier to maintain.
“We’ve had to support the upkeep and that’s been tough on our budget,” said Porter, a Homestead native. “We’re still crawling out of that hole from Andrew. But we’ve turned the corner, we’re growing, property values are up and improving our recreational facilities shows a commitment to quality of life.”
The Orange Bowl Committee, a civic organization born in 1935, will host its 83rd postseason college football game Dec. 30, when the Capitol One Orange Bowl pits Florida State against Michigan at Hard Rock Stadium.
The committee has committed $12 million to four legacy gifts in the past eight years, including refurbishments at Ives Dairy Estates Park, Carter Park in Fort Lauderdale and Moore Park in Liberty City, where the first Orange Bowl Festival game was held.
The resurfacing of the dilapidated track at Moore Park, where many of Miami’s Olympic track and field stars got their start, has made a huge difference to those who run on it, said Alan Holt, a coach of his late father Jesse Holt’s Northwest Express Track Club, which was founded at the park in 1976.
“Moore Park was neglected for so long and the Orange Bowl recognized what a resource it is for so many people,” Holt said. “It’s much more attractive and safe. They fixed the bathrooms and concession stands and added stadium seating.”
The Orange Bowl’s tentacles reach far beyond its signature football game. There’s a junior tennis tournament and sailing regatta, a college swim meet, a basketball tournament, a girls golf program, a mentorship program and for the first time on Feb. 25, a high school football combine for 500 senior players to showcase their talents to Division II, III and NAIA college coaches.