House of memories
It’s a one-of-a-kind feeling for South Medford quarterback Robbie Patterson when he steps foot inside Spiegelberg Stadium.
The history of the place can be seen everywhere, Patterson says. In a world that seems to be quickly changing, the stadium remains a giant reminder of simpler times, when Friday night football reigned supreme.
“It is a great experience playing there,” Patterson says. “It is definitely the best high school stadium in the state of Oregon, no doubt about it.”
Spiegelberg Stadium, at 1551 Cunningham Ave., is the longtime home field for Medford high school football teams. It holds 9,250 people in its home and away grandstands, both of which are covered.
Along with North and South Medford high schools, St. Mary’s also uses the field. The stadium is home to Newland Track, which has a blue track surface. The semi-professional Southern Oregon Renegades and several Pop Warner teams also use the field, along with the North Medford and South Medford soccer teams.
And behind the stadium is the name: Spiegelberg.
The late Fred Spiegelberg is an Oregon Sports Hall of Famer who led the Black Tornado to a record of 253-62-10 in 31 seasons. During his run, the school won four state titles (1959, 1962, 1969 and 1977) and played in nine championship games. An accomplished football player and boxer, he also was inducted into the Washington State University Hall of Fame in 1983.
“One of my earliest memories of the stadium is standing next to my father on the sideline for Friday night football,” says Scott Spiegelberg, Fred’s oldest son, who is now director of Beyond Football at Oregon State University.
Before Patterson and Spiegelberg, a passion for football was brewing in the Rogue Valley that would ultimately lead to the construction of a relic called Medford Stadium.
Medford’s first team emerged in 1919.
In the early 1930s, Prink Callison and Darwin Burgher coached the football teams at Medford. Back then (and until 1966) Medford High existed at what is now Central Medford High.
Before 1936, Medford High games were played on Van Scoy Field at what is now McLoughlin Middle School. The team was called the Tigers prior to the 1940s, but the program also was occasionally referred to as the Pear Pickers after the region’s chief crop. The field was a muddy mess covered with sawdust.
Bill Bowerman replaced Burgher as Medford High head coach in 1935. One year later, construction began on a 1,250-seat covered grandstand designed by Medford architect Frank Clark.
Medford Stadium opened in September 1936 with Southern Oregon’s first turf field and grandstand, which, in the middle of the Great Depression, cost $1,497 to build. The lawn was beautiful, closely clipped, green grass.
Bowerman did plenty of research before the stadium’s creation, making the rounds to football fields while on his honeymoon in Southern California.
In the first official prep game ever played on grass in Southern Oregon, Oct. 3, 1936, the Medford Tigers beat Eureka 19-0.
One year later, lights for night games were installed at Medford Stadium, and in 1939 the old scoreboard was replaced with a well-lit, modern version featuring an electric clock and numbers.
In 1948, Lee Ragsdale became head coach of Medford High, replacing Bowerman when Bowerman left to coach track at Oregon.
In 1952, Fred Spiegelberg replaced Ragsdale as head coach, beginning his historic tenure with the program.
By then, Spiegelberg already had coached several teams while stationed in Berlin. He had served as a captain in the Army during World War II in France.
“He touched a lot of lives,” Scott Spiegelberg says. “He is one of those World War II veterans who instilled a lot of discipline and confidence. He cared deeply.”
In 1962, Medford Stadium’s west grandstand was renovated with help from the Medford Linebackers club.
In 1969, Scott Spiegelberg led the Black Tornado to the state championship. That was a special year, Scott recalls, because the day after Medford beat Corvallis for the big-school title, the squad came back to watch St. Mary’s win a championship by beating Newport that Saturday. Prospect also made a title game that year.
In 1971, Fred Spiegelberg was named national coach of the year.
In 1982, during Spiegelberg’s final season, a wild windstorm came in from the south that knocked down trees and lifted the roof off the stadium as the Tornado took on Roseburg. The game had to be postponed and played the next day at Crater High.
When the roof slammed back down on its support structure, a piece of it fell off. Jerry Allen and Marc Bayliss, the radio sportsmen of KYJC, later gave the piece to Fred.
Fred Spiegelberg retired after the 1982 season. One year later, Medford Stadium was named after him, thanks to the efforts of the Medford Linebackers and several other individuals.
“It was a surprise to him,” says daughter Shawn Marie Retzlaff, who was 23 and living in Portland at the time. “He didn’t see that coming.”
A roast was held for Spiegelberg before the honor, Retzlaff recalls.
“I was at the retirement party in March of 1983," recalls Scott, "and they kept that a surprise from me and my father. When that was announced by our school board chair at the end of that retirement party at the Medford Armory, it was quite a surprise.”
In 1989, an all-weather track was installed at Spiegelberg Stadium. The track is named after coach Bob Newland, who led the Tornado to nine track and field stat titles over a 10-year period ending in 1957.
Fred Spiegelberg died at age 76 in 1996. His service was held at the stadium that March.
“That always holds a close place in our hearts," Scott says. “All the former players there wore their jerseys. There was a lot of red and black that afternoon.”
In 2004, Spiegelberg Stadium had FieldTurf (a synthetic surface) installed, and the track was resurfaced. It is currently being renovated.
Matt and Ryan Retzlaff, two of Shawn’s three boys, played many games at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Seeing those boys play — and before them, watching classic rivalries unfold — adds to the memories of the stadium for Shawn, who was a cheerleader in high school.
“I think it’s just brought the community together,” she says. “I have nothing but fond memories.”
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt.