From Fairfax Field to unbeaten seasons at Ram Stadium
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Fairfax Field at Shepherd College was a football field in name only. Where else could the Rams play if they stayed on campus?
A stone wall stood defiantly just behind the end zone closest to Miller Hall and the school president’s house. Behind the other end zone were brambles, briars, weeds and invasive trees.
The first year Shepherd tried football, it played two games, losing once and getting a tie in the other try.
A covered wooden grandstand tried to protect the early crowds from the elements. One of the sidelines didn’t have seats for the crowds, but did have space for automobiles to park. Close to the parked vehicles were grazing cattle, protected from any disgruntled Shepherd follower by a wire fence.
A.D. Kenamond coached the first two games, and then left the coaching to Withrow Legge. After a couple seasons, Legge was replaced by John Newcome, who prowled the Shepherd sidelines from 1925 through the 1941 season.
In quick order came Cletus Lowe, Don Phillips, William Moore and Don Fouss.
Fouss coached the Rams to an 8-0-0 record in 1955.
The seasons didn’t begin until late September, and usually seven or eight games dotted the schedule.
While occupying Fairfax Field for football, Shepherd played schools from the WVIAC and NAIA, as well as Homecoming opponents such as Shenandoah Military, Shenandoah, Bridgewater, Potomac State, Wilson Teachers, Montgomery County Junior College and Davis & Elkins.
Even after the one unbeaten season, Shepherd was never involved in any kind of playoff game while using the facility on the west campus.
During the spring, when the baseball Rams held sway at Fairfax Field, the place was also used for spring football practices.
In 1959, the football Rams moved across the highway to a new facility labeled Ram Stadium.
The field had a grass surface circled by a narrow cinder track. Players and coaches dressed in the lower reaches of Sara Cree Hall, a building now gone that housed Shepherd basketball and had a swimming pool as well.
Permanent bleachers stood in front of Sara Cree and just behind the Shepherd players, as they watched the on-field happenings. There were no stands behind the visitors’ benches, only a rugged hill that was home to limestone outcroppings and some fans in folding lawn chairs.
A thin ribbon of asphalt was at the top of that hill, so students moving to classes or the Rams Den from west campus could get to their destinations.
A scoreboard situated just below the highway could prove difficult to read when the sun was blessing the crowd.
About 1,000 people could be seated comfortably. In 1980, a press box was installed above the seating area. It’s still in place today, even though the other side of the stadium has a more modern and roomier press box.
Schedules increased to 10 or 11 games a season. The first coach the Rams had in their second home was Jesse Riggleman, and then came Roger Parker, Walter Barr, Mike Jacobs for one season and Monte Cater.
The most lopsided score at Ram Stadium remains the 62-0 win over Gallaudet in 1962. Wayne Wilson, a running back first drafted by Houston of the NFL, was probably Shepherd’s best-ever player — leaving Shepherd following his 1975-78 career for a lengthy tenure playing for Houston, New Orleans, Minnesota and the Washington Redskins.
Massive changes came to Ram Stadium in 2000, when 3,000 seats were added on the west side raising the number of seating to 5,000. Seating rings the stadium today in 2018, with a pavilion for boosters and the Ram Gridiron Club nestled alongside the seats on the east side.
A quality dressing facility occupies space underneath today’s electronic scoreboard. The playing service is artificial turf, and has been in place for over a decade.
Shepherd hosts NCAA Division II playoff games, winning its way to the national finals in 2015 and to the national semifinals the next season.
The WVIAC and the NAIA have long since disappeared. Once the WVIAC disbanded, Shepherd became a member of the Mountain East Conference, where it won all but league championship and even had an 8-2 record that season.
Next year, the Rams will be gone from the MEC and become a member of the PSAC, a league housing state of Pennsylvania schools from Philadelphia to Erie and Mansfield to Shippensburg.
Coming into the 2018 football season, Shepherd has a dominant 48-2 record against its MEC league opponents.
Cater has retired after 31 seasons at the helm. Long-time assistant Ernie McCook is now the head coach.
Under Cater’s watchful eye, Ram Stadium had 7,000 squeeze inside for a playoff game, and often saw more than 5,000 shoehorn their way in to see such playoff teams as Indiana, West Chester, North Alabama and Grand Valley State.
Fairfax Field for football is a place remembered by the long in tooth. Ram Stadium in 1959 was far different from today’s version of the stadium. And the 2018 season will be the final one where long-time rivals Fairmont, Glenville, West Virginia Wesleyan and Concord come calling.