A year ago, the Fredonia Hillbillies football team played its final game of the season — the Section VI Class C championship game — on the home field of the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. This season, the Hillbillies plan to return to their traditional home field, the Orange Bowl, for home football games in 2022.
While this is the case with any high school field compared to a professional stadium, to say it is a big difference in venues from one game to the next is quite an understatement. In Fredonia’s case, that gap is larger than it would be for most programs — and it does not seem likely to change in the near future.
Because of how substantial the cost to renovate the Orange Bowl or to construct a new venue would be, a future capital project is the most realistic route for funding. Fredonia Superintendent Brad Zilliox told the OBSERVER that Fredonia is currently in the time frame “in between” capital projects after the most recent project finished around a year ago. Another project will likely begin initial planning two to three years from the completion of the last project. In the meantime, no significant upgrades to the athletic facilities at Fredonia are anticipated.
“Myself and our Board of Education recognize that this is a conversation in the community with logical rationale on both sides. I think we understand the argument of tradition for the Orange Bowl. I think we understand the argument for potentially considering an upgraded and enhanced facility not at the Orange Bowl,” Zilliox said.
While many love the history and tradition of the Orange Bowl, there are already signs that the field is an outdated venue to hold big games. Even just last season, the Hillbillies played their home playoff games at Dunkirk High School on the Marauders’ home turf, Karl Hoeppner Field. In 2018, Fredonia was also forced to play home games at Brocton Central School because of safety concerns, especially with the bleachers at the time. Although the bleachers were repaired in 2018, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
In his interactions within the community, Zilliox said that it has never seemed like an overwhelming majority favoring either staying at the Orange Bowl or moving to a new venue. However, the debate on where Fredonia should play will not go anywhere until discussions for a new capital project commence.
“We’re not going to bring forward a capital project proposal within the next year. … For us as a community to engage in this debate right now doesn’t do much for us,” said Zilliox.
Zilliox told the OBSERVER that the needs of the district as a whole will be taken into account for the next capital project within the next two or three years, at which point Fredonia will assess all of the infrastructure needs of the schools.
“You get into the discussion of what the infrastructure needs are and what are some things that are nice to have on top of that to benefit our students, which is when you get into athletic fields or potentially an auditorium that supports your music and drama productions,” said Zilliox.
One thing that has been improved in recent years at the Orange Bowl is a new scoreboard was donated in 2020 by the Fredonia Beaver Club. Although a new scoreboard is a notable improvement to the aesthetics of the Orange Bowl, practical aspects such as the bleachers and the location of the field itself cannot be easily fixed.
Located at the bottom of such a steep hill, many fans struggle to get from the parking lot to the bleachers. Although the hill is more than just a tough obstacle for spectators to conquer, it also lends the Orange Bowl field to the mercy of Mother Nature, much more than many other fields. The location frequently has poor field conditions, with flooding a common occurrence.
Weather concerns have led to games being moved to different locations in the past – most commonly to Dunkirk’s Karl Hoeppner Field, with a fee charged to Fredonia to rent Dunkirk’s field for the event. Zilliox said Dunkirk High School has always been very accommodating when a Fredonia game needs to be moved to a different venue.
“They have been great neighbors,” said Zilliox. “Our Athletic Director Greg Lauer and Al Gens at Dunkirk work very well together. Dunkirk has been very flexible and accommodating to negotiate in those moments where the Orange Bowl is not in good shape or is questionable.”
Although Fredonia has certainly enjoyed plenty of recent success on Dunkirk’s turf, some in the community feel it’s time Fredonia has its own facility to compete with rival schools such as Dunkirk and Southwestern.
“We have not thoroughly explored any and all of the nuances of this. We recognize at some point, this would need to be grappled with. … When the time comes (for another capital project) athletic facilities will definitely be a consideration within that conversation,” said Zilliox.
Still – at least for now – all Fredonia home games this season are set to be played at the Orange Bowl, beginning on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. against Akron. The final game of the regular season is set for Oct. 21, against Dunkirk, at the Orange Bowl.