Hometown Report

As Sac City turns 100, Hughes Stadium still takes the cake

The newly remodeled Hughes stadium lights up the night during the Holy Bowl - Jesuit vs Christian Brothers High School - on Sept.15, 2012.
The newly remodeled Hughes stadium lights up the night during the Holy Bowl - Jesuit vs Christian Brothers High School - on Sept.15, 2012. Bee file

The coaches’ offices are almost too new, too polished.

This can’t be the football headquarters for Sacramento City College, can it?

The coaches used to set up shop in the North Gym, on the other side of campus from Hughes Stadium. In the old digs, there was one office, as large as it was musty, and it offered all the charm of a muffler shop, right down to the duct tape-sealed couch and ankle-deep shag carpet.

“This is the same carpet here, but we mowed it,” Panthers assistant coach Dave Griffin said, laughing at his fib as he pointed to nice flooring from one of several coaches’ offices constructed during a 2012 Hughes Stadium overhaul. “We’re still breaking this place in.”

As Sac City celebrates its 100th birthday with all-day festivities Saturday, capped by a football game against Sierra College at 6 p.m., Hughes Stadium forever sparkles as the school’s crown jewel. It remains a site to behold.

Hughes Stadium – named after Charles C. Hughes, the first superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District – isn’t as old as the college. The horseshoe-shape venue opened on Oct. 13, 1928, with members of the Sacramento High School band officially breaking in the place. The Sacramento Dragons beat Modesto High 33-0 in the stadium’s first event, and hours later, Sac City downed Santa Rosa 24-6 in a rare doubleheader.

Hughes Stadium was for generations the region’s premier entertainment spot. Soccer matches and track and field meets were held at Hughes for the first time in 1929. Midget car racing and motorcycle events took hold in the 1930s. City high schools used Hughes for decades. It is still home for McClatchy and Christian Brothers, and the Holy Bowl that attracts crowds of up to 18,000.

Pro football preseason games were played at Hughes in the 1950s and ’60s, including the Raiders’ first victory in franchise history, against the New York Titans in 1960. Small-college football championships were played at Hughes. And there were historic Olympic qualifying track meets, championship boxing matches, the Pig Bowland the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League swatting home runs over a 40-foot-high net in left field, 233 feet from the plate.

Crowds of more than 20,000 soccer fans watched Republic FC play its first games there in 2014.

The largest crowd in Hughes’ history is the 42,000-plus who packed in to watch the Doobie Brothers in 1981. In fact, concerts throughout the 1970s and ’80s – the Eagles, Sammy Hagar, Jackson 5, Willie Nelson, Pink Floyd and Rod Stewart – attracted some of the largest crowds at Hughes.

“If anything, Hughes is really underused now,” said Rick Brewer, Sac City’s communications and public information officer.

He’s right, and it’s a shame. Hughes got that 2012 face-lift while maintaining its throwback appeal with the cinder block walls, but the big track meets and prep football playoff games are now held at Sacramento State, which won bidding wars. The last concert was in 1988, when Pink Floyd rocked the place.

The main attraction is the Sac City football team that is bearing down on another winning season. There is a lot to sell when Panthers coaches such as Dannie Walker, Jared Brown and John Herlihy recruit local athletes.

“Tradition,” said Walker, the head coach.

“Nothing beats this place – just look at it,” said Brown, the offensive coordinator. “And look at Herlihy. He never left this place.”

Herlihy, the defensive coordinator, arrived at Sac City in 1991 out of West Sacramento, where he was a two-sport star for River City High. He had no idea what his future held when he showed up. He now talks to many teenagers who were much like him. Herlihy has college degrees and stories to tell.

“I came from a family where a high school diploma was a big thing,” he said. “Divorced parents, a lot of stress. I was an at-risk model. Then you come to a place like this and learn more about values and accountability, and you grow. I came here as an athlete and left as a student, a man, and it’s something that still happens with kids now.

“That’s why this place is still so great. You experience the venue and games and a lot more.”