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ALL HIGH STADIUM PROJECT RESTORES AN ALMOST-BURIED TREASURE

Nick Mogavero never forgot his first job and what it meant to him. Recently, he had the opportunity to give something back to the employer who first gave him a chance.

Mogavero, 68, who began his 51-year relationship with All High Stadium by cutting grass, is one of a handful of people responsible for the recent renovation of the Buffalo Public Schools' football stadium.

More than $220,000 has been put into the ailing structure, transforming a Western New York-landmark from an eyesore into a centerpiece.

The renovated stadium now boasts a repaired roof, a new press box and new ticket booths. Also, six sections of seats have been replaced (about 1,000 total) with folding all-weather seats like those found at Dunn Tire Park.

Coca-Cola, a long-time corporate supporter of the Buffalo Public Schools, also has donated a brand-new scoreboard.

"Anyone who has been a part of All High, or associated with the stadium, knows that stepping foot in there is like being at a basilica," Mogavero said. "It is a place that is full of history and needed to be revived."

Mogavero has seen his share of history at All High. As a junior at Grover Cleveland, he got a job with the grounds crew in 1948. After a stint in the service and beginning a family, Mogavero returned to the Buffalo Public Schools as the football, basketball and baseball coach at Bennett High School from 1959-1969.

"There was, and is, no place like All High for a game," said Mogavero, who recently returned to his post as director of physical education after 25 years as the district's director of health. "As a coach, I never once practiced on that field, it was for games only. It was like sacred ground to me."

After years of neglect and decay, not everyone felt that All High was worth repairing.

In January, members of the Buffalo Board of Education and some parents advocated the demolition of All High, citing the outdated locker rooms and crumbling edifice.

To those who understood the value and tradition of All High, the wrecking ball was not an option.

"We felt this place was worth saving," said Dave Thomas, public schools athletic director. "I couldn't believe anyone would want to get rid of such a beautiful facility."

Thomas and Mogavero came up with a proposal in conjunction with Mel Alston, the head of plant services, and assistant superintendent of facilities Ed Lindsey to try to save the stadium.

"We were at Bennett doing some other work two years ago when we took a look at All High," said Lindsay, the main architect of current and future renovations. "We decided that the field was excellent, and that the other things could be improved."

The field itself has always been All High's claim to fame since the structure was built in 1927.

"In 1968 the Buffalo Bisons wanted to take over the field and knock it down," Mogavero said. "I was asked by the school board to give a presentation of why we should keep it for high schools.

"I called a friend of mine, George Toma, who at the time was the head groundskeeper for the Kansas City Chiefs and now works as a consultant for the National Football League. He said that because of the natural crown of the turf and the drainage, it was one of the top four boys' football fields in the nation.

"Well, we saved it then, and we've done it again."

Renovations aren't finished yet, however. There is still a lot of work left to do, and money that needs to be found to fund it.

"We had some money in the capital funds to do the initial repair," Thomas said. "We still need to dismantle and haul off the south end of the bleachers. We'd also like to put in an all-weather track and new lighting."

Phase two of the renovations includes refurbishing of the locker rooms and replacing more seats.

"Our hope is to have 4,000 new seats in the stadium by the time we're finished," Lindsey said.

Mogavero and Thomas have been overwhelmed by the amount of community support for the project.

"People came up to us and told us 'whatever we can do to help'," Mogavero said. "People come out to that stadium all the time and relive memories of when they might have played football 40 years ago."

"The great thing about All High is that grandparents, parents and kids have all played on that field," Thomas said.

Someday, it seems, great-grandchildren may be added to that list.

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