Centennial Game More than Football

While the Broncos are finishing up with their final practices this week gearing up for their football game against the Virginia Cavaliers from the ACC, Western Michigan University gears up for a once in a lifetime event. After all an institution of higher learning can only celebrate 100 years of academic excellence just once.

It was on May 27, 1903 when former Michigan Governor, Aaron T. Bliss signed the bill that established the fourth normal school in Kalamazoo naming it Western State Normal School. However, Western State Normal School did not open its doors until the summer of 1904. When the doors were opened 117 students became the first students to attend classes that summer.

The earliest connection to Bronco football as we know it today dates back to the schools opening in 1904. The stadium that the Broncos have called home since 1939 bears the name of the first President in WMU history, Dwight B. Waldo. Waldo Stadium has undergone many changes since its dedication in 1939, but one thing remains the same; on a fall Saturday afternoon, students, alumni and fans alike have a place to gather to share one thing in common, Bronco football.

WMU football actually started in 1906. In that first season the Broncos finished with a 1-2 record under head coach Melvin "Tubby" Myers. Myers only coached just one season for the Broncos who were originally called the Hilltoppers. That season the Hilltoppers lost to Eastern Michigan 5-14, Kalamazoo College 0-14 and beat Wayland High School 21-0.

In 1925 Western State Normal School dedicated the Men's Gymnasium (later named the Oakland Gym). Two years later the schools name was changed to Western State Teachers College.

In 1939 two things occurred to WMU football that remains to date. The first being the completion of a new football stadium that not only held football events but also track and field events until Kanley Track was constructed in 1992. The second event was the changing of the university's nickname from the Hilltoppers to the Broncos. The university held a contest in which the winner would receive a $10 check. Upon winning the contest, John Gill gave his check to the Waldo Stadium building fund.

John Gill was an outstanding student-athlete for WMU who went on to become the Broncos sixth head coach. Coaching from 1942 to 1952 Gill coached the Broncos to a 50-34-1 record.

In 1941 WMU's name was changed for the second time. On May 12, 1941 Western State Teachers College became Western Michigan College of Education, giving the school its first designation of Western Michigan. Just over 14 years later the university would change its name once again, this time changing it to Western Michigan College in 1955 however, Western Michigan College was a short lived name. Two years after becoming Western Michigan College, Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams approves the changing of the name to what it is today. On February 26, 1957 Western Michigan College became Western Michigan University.

While attracting crowds to attend home football games at time, the Broncos have been able to continually draw strong enough crowd to continue expanding and improving Waldo Stadium. When Waldo Stadium opened in 1939 seating capacity was 15,000. But in the early 1970's the stadium had to go under expansion and renovations due in part to new NCAA requirements. In 1973 the Broncos opened up Waldo Stadium with an extra 10,000 seats taking the seating capacity to 25,000 and were playing on Astroturf for the first time at home.

In 1989 Waldo Stadium was expanded to its present day seating capacity of 30,200. A couple years later the Astroturf was removed for a grass surface which was then replaced for a newer form of artificial turf (NexTurf) in 2001.

New locker rooms, offices, meeting rooms, training rooms and strength and condition rooms were built in the new Bill Brown Alumni Football Center which was dedicated in 1998. But one of the biggest improvements for the athletic department at WMU was yet to come.

In 2001 the university began the project of building a $25 million indoor athletic facility known as the Donald "J." Seelye Athletic Center. The project included tearing all but the façade of the Oakland Gym. Today the Seelye Center houses offices/suites, training rooms, weight rooms and an 80-yard football field. The completion of the center makes the Seelye Center a useful to for athletic development not only for the football team but also for baseball, softball, men and women's track and soccer teams.

Just this summer two new additions were added to Waldo Stadium. In the east endzone on the façade of the Seelye Center, the Broncos added an auxiliary scoreboard. In the west endzone the old scoreboard was replaced with a jumbotron video scoreboard that was donated by the Coca Cola Company in exchange for sponsorship rights and the naming of the jumbotron to Coca Cola Vision.

While the close to 30,000 students go to class today at a school that began with just 117 students, the Broncos football team prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the school that has provided so many students with a top notch education and the opportunity to excel at athletics while working hard to earn a degree. When asked about the significance of this week's football game, head coach Gary Darnell said, "we're looking forward to a dynamic week. It's the Centennial Game, whether it's the alumni, the students or the community in general — it's a very important week for us."

No matter the outcome of Saturday's football contest, the students and athletes are the big winners. Not only do they get to celebrate a football game, but they get to celebrate their university and they get to celebrate with a university that will be celebrating its 200th anniversary in just 16 years.

To those of you who are thinking about not going to Waldo Stadium at 2:00pm Saturday, think about this for a few minutes. What will you remember more 10 to 20 years from now, Notre Dame playing Michigan or WMU making history by playing the University of Virginia in the Centennial Celebration game? For those of you who don't like the thought of getting wet, the WMU Bookstore has several locations around the stadium that sells Broncos ponchos to help keep you dry.

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