The Anahuac Panthers are finally coming home.
After playing their 2017 home football games at venues throughout the area, the Panthers of Anahuac High School will kick off the 2018 season at their new home field Aug. 31, when they open the regular season against Tarkington.
Kyle White Stadium, located on the Anahuac High School campus, is part of an athletics renovation project that also saw the construction of new baseball and softball fields, as well as a fieldhouse with new locker rooms.
“I think these renovations are going to do something for these kids,” Anahuac athletic director and head football coach Jason Speights said.
“We’re trying to create a new culture, and part of that is having nice things for these athletes. They work hard, and I don’t see why having nice things wouldn’t be a part of that.”
Walking around the periphery of the Panthers’ new home, one can get a whiff of the oddly-not-unpleasant smell of rubber on the newly-laid turf. Like many fields to be built or refurbished over the last decade, the surface at Kyle White Stadium is a synthetic, grassy turf with rubber infill.
For all intents and purposes, the Panthers played a season of road games last season. Anahuac played its designated home games at Baytown’s Stallworth Stadium and other stadiums throughout the area.
“We were the road warriors last year,” Speights said with a laugh – a laugh that comes with a sense of relief knowing his team won’t have to repeat such a tedious schedule. In fact, the Panthers will play six out of their 10 regular season games at home, somewhat as a makeup from last year.
The opening of the stadium coincides with – and probably enhances – what Speights believes is the start of new era at Anahuac. The coach says he has a good crop of juniors who will be taking the field at their brand new home.
“I think this is going to be our best season,” Speights said. “The kids have really bought into our vision, and the team camaraderie is there.”
Then again, it’s hard not to have some camaraderie after the team played what essentially amounted to 10 road games last season.
“I really think the new stadium is going to do something different for us, and I think it’s going to change Anahuac,” Speights said. “Look for an exciting team that’s full of energy, ready to get out there and play and have some fun.”
Speights was also thankful to the Anahuac community, which helped pass the bond that made the stadium projects possible.
“It was exciting that the community wanted to see this happen. They wanted what was best for the student-athletes in our community,” Speights said. “And it’s not only for the students, it’s for the community.”
And it won’t just be the Anahuac community that benefits from the stadiums; other schools that have another top-tier option for postseason games between Houston and Beaumont.
“Throughout this project, we emphasized that Anahuac is a central point between Houston and Beaumont,” Speights said. “I think we have a good chance of hosting some of those playoff games for teams that don’t want to travel all the way to Houston, Beaumont, or Port Arthur.”
But before the football stadium will host a postseason contest, the home team will have played the first six varsity games in the venue’s history.