Open for Season

A dream that began six years ago became a reality last Saturday night.

In front of a near sellout crowd, Belson Stadium, the brand new, state-of-the-art soccer complex for both the men’s and women’s teams, was opened for use by both programs.

In the inaugural game the men’s team tied Wake Forest 1-1.

After winning the National Championship in 1996, plans were put into motion to build a new field for the soccer program. “I go back to that championship team,” said St. John’s President, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. “That team deserves so much credit. They pulled it off without a good facility, they won the National Championship, got the attention of the Belsons and as a result, this happens. This stadium will greatly benefit our outstanding student-athletes, especially our soccer teams, for years to come,” he said.

But not even the main benefactor, Jerome Belson, who along with his wife, Maxine, and son, Tad, donated $6 million for the construction of the stadium, could have imagined the field he saw before him would be the final product.

“My wife had noticed that a couple of the boys were pretty badly injured on their arms and legs,” Jerome Belson said. “We learned that it was a result of artificial fields. Back then we thought it was a half-million dollar expenditure.

“It’s above and beyond anything we had dreamed of.”

Pre-game ceremonies began with an introduction of the men’s team and followed with gifts to the Belsons and continued with a dedication by Fr. Harrington.

Fr. Harrington, the Belsons, vice president for Development and Athletics Dave Wegrzyn and men’s Head Coach Dave Masur and his wife Shannon cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the 2,300 seat facility.

The proceedings closed with a fireworks display.

Situated next to the baseball stadium, the field is on a raised platform that will allow for parking underneath.

The stands, which surround three sides of the field, are right on top of the action. And flags honoring past success – Big East Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances-fly around the perimeter of the stadium.

The biggest difference is not the stadium itself, which replaces DaSilva Field as the site of home games, but the playing surface. The games are now played on FieldTurf, which is essentially artificial grass with a sand base underneath, which is more realistic than standard AstroTurf.

“This facility is the best soccer stadium in the country and our men’s and women’s soccer programs will benefit greatly from it,” Masur said. “We owe so much to the Belson family for their contributions, their love of St. John’s, our programs and our student-athletes.”

St. John’s will now be able to host Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament games on campus because of the new playing surface, unlike past years when home games had to be held at local fields such as the Mitchel Athletic Complex.

Even former St. John’s players were jealous of the field that the current Johnnies get to play on.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Jimmy Hanna, who played for St. John’s in 1982 and ’83. “When I walked in, I got goose bumps. 20 years ago we were playing on a field back where the softball field is today.”

Hanna wasn’t the only one to praise the field. Walter Kraker, who played from 1987-90, also had great things to say about the facility.

“Compared to when I was here like 10 years ago,” Kraker said, “the program has come leaps and bounds. Every year it seems to get better and better.

“I would have loved to have played on a field like this in front of all these people.”

The atmosphere was indeed electric, and included the pep band as well as the dance team and cheerleaders.

There was even a student section, which decided to heckle Wake Forest goalie William Hesmer and followed him from one side of the stadium to the other, taunting him throughout the game and making enough noise to be heard on Union Turnpike.

“It was by far the best experience that I’ve had here at a home game,” SJU sophomore forward Andre Schmid said. “The atmosphere was incredible.

“With the band and then the fans, it was tough to hear coach and information from the sideline. As far as the crowd goes, it was perfect.”