The influence of Von Ray Harris is still being felt at Lincolnton High School over two decades since the longtime head football coach’s retirement, and proposed new additions to Memorial Stadium will honor his contributions to the program.
Harris, who coached at Lincolnton from 1958-1987 and passed away in 2011, was instrumental in the construction of Lincolnton’s stadium and is the namesake for the team’s field.
Now current head football coach Scott Cloninger, former Lincolnton defensive coordinator Dr. Clyde Smith and a group of former players and alumni hope to honor the man they call simply “Coach” once again.
Lincolnton’s athletic department is seeking donations from former players and local businesses to offset the cost of constructing a bronze memorial under the stadium’s scoreboard commemorating Harris and two of his favorite dogs, who were ever-present on the sideline whenever the Wolves played — an English bulldog named George and a Labrador retriever named Sam.
Lincolnton is also planning upgrades to the stadium’s field house and scoreboard, in keeping with Harris’s philosophy of continuously improving the school’s facilities.
The athletic department is planning the memorial and upgrades through private donations while, at the same time, the Lincoln County school system is funding major repairs to the stadium’s track.
“Coach Harris always impressed upon us as coaches to put back into the facilities,” Smith said. “He did it, (former head coach) Richard Smith did it and Scott is ready to do it.”
Donors to the program will be recognized by the construction of a brick wall listing the names of contributors underneath the stadium’s “Black and Gold” board.
The facilities at the stadium, which Smith described as “like a small college’s,” have been primarily financed by private donations over the years.
“That stadium is 90 percent built on private donations,” Cloninger said. “In the 60s Coach Harris and some local community leaders built an unbelievable stadium. In the 70s Dr. Smith raised the money to build the track. In the 90s Richard Smith built the press box. It’s time.”
Cloninger said the Wolves will host an alumni event for former players and coaches at the Sept. 13 home game against East Gaston.
“This thing is getting to the phase where we’re going to do something we should have done a long time ago for our former players,” Cloninger said. “We want to have a celebration and recognize Coach Harris and at the same time do this for our stadium. It’s as good a stadium as you’ll find.”
Cloninger said the Wolves have simply “outgrown” the field house, which was constructed in the mid-1960s.
“When Coach started he had two or three assistants,” Cloninger said. “Now we have 12. We need more storage. We’re going to have to enlarge it.”
The first phase of the expansion of the field house calls for a 10-by-50 storage room built onto the rear face of the existing structure.
The ramifications of the improvements to the field won’t be felt on Friday nights alone. The facility has been used by Relay for Life and the Special Olympics, among others, and as a training ground for local law enforcement and the National Guard. The plans for the new scoreboard include a message board where local events, like those held at the stadium, can be previewed.
“This is not just for Lincolnton High School,” Cloninger said. “It’s used by tons of people. We couldn’t have the facilities we have without support from the community.”
The Lincolnton athletic department is hosting a meeting for anyone interested in participating in the renovations and updates on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the school’s library.