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Long-Awaited, $15 Million Saddleback High Football Stadium Nearly Ready

Long-Awaited, $15 Million Saddleback High Football Stadium Nearly Ready

Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in July 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

8/10/2023

Updated: 8/10/2023

When Eddie Bustamante arrived at Santa Ana’s Saddleback High School as principal nine years ago, he repeatedly heard one message from students loud and clear.
They longed for a football stadium. Their own football stadium.
If only it were that easy.
Residents of the area had their own desire. The status quo. They did not want Friday night lights illuminating the neighborhood, nor were they interested in the increased traffic that football games and other events would bring.
“Probably the biggest concern was trying to get what the kids wanted versus also getting the community to help support it and understand that it’s more than just a stadium,” Mr. Bustamante told The Epoch Times. “You can’t beat Friday nights. It’s the one time of the week when you all come together as a community … your band, your alumni, your parents. It’s an awesome feeling for a school. We have a lot of school pride, but there’s nothing like having your own.”
Since the school’s establishment in 1967, Saddleback’s football teams have played their “home” games elsewhere, most recently a couple of miles away at Segerstrom High. That is set to change Sept. 29, when the Roadrunners are scheduled to host their Homecoming game against Costa Mesa in a newly constructed, $15 million-plus football facility on campus.
“We’ve always had to play at Segerstrom. That gets old,” Saddleback Athletic Director Rob Thompson told The Epoch Times. “You never really have a home game. Now we do, and we’re excited about it. You know who else is excited? Alumni. This school is 55 years old. We had a couple stop by the other day. I asked if they ever thought they’d see this, and they said no, they never thought they would see a field here.”
Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Financing the project, of course, represented a significant hurdle. Even before that, though, came the challenge of getting a very vocal opposition to buy into an idea that had previously resulted in litigation.
Mr. Bustamante adopted anything but an adversarial approach.
“Laws have changed nowadays in terms of building stadiums,” he said. “You don’t need permission from the community anymore, but there are certain processes, like a public hearing, that you have to abide by to give people the opportunity to voice their concerns.
“I was able to meet with the neighborhood association and talk to them about why it was important to kids, and that any new stadium or things of that nature are also beneficial to the community. We’re talking about good schools, rental properties, the value of a home increasing, and overall, in general.”
Saddleback students also talked to community members to gather support. A compromise where the stadium lights angle toward the school, rather than into the neighborhood, went a long way, as did work with the city to install a nearby traffic light to help alleviate congestion.
A fundraising grant and financial aid from the Santa Ana Unified School District provided some capital, but the project ultimately hinged on a 2018 bond measure.
“So, we were not only going to the community and saying, ‘Hey, you really need this, and I know you don’t want it, but by the way, I actually want you to help me pay for it,’” Mr. Bustamante said.
By including residents every step of the way, addressing their concerns, and rallying students old enough at Saddleback and other district schools to vote, a push to pass the bond measure succeeded overwhelmingly.
A sign outside of the construction site of a new football stadium at the Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in August 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

A sign outside of the construction site of a new football stadium at the Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in August 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

“It was hard, to be honest, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to do what’s best for kids and we’re really trying to do what’s best for the community, as well,” Mr. Bustamante said. “This stadium is not mine. It’s theirs, the community’s. They can come and walk around the track. They will have use of this. Once they saw the full picture, they’re onboard now. They’re excited about it.”
The public and Saddleback’s football team, however, must exercise more patience before being able to enjoy the new facility. Largely because of the COVID pandemic, construction delays pushed the stadium’s projected opening back from last spring, and finishing touches still must be applied.
“Like I told the players, we’ve waited this long. We can wait a few more weeks,” first-year Saddleback Coach Mike Nobles told The Epoch Times. “One of the things that attracted me to coach here was the new stadium. It’s one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art. We are probably going to have other schools that don’t have varsity fields wanting to play their home games here because this is very, very nice.”
With heavy input from students, who worked with designers, the field’s color scheme is unique. Most of the artificial turf is gray, with a Roadrunner logo at midfield. The sidelines and end zones are green, soccer-field lines are yellow, and the outer track is two shades of gray.
“Our kids didn’t want the same as everybody else,” Mr. Bustamante said. “You’re talking to kids who are in touch with college football. They’re seeing the different landscapes and uniforms. It was pretty cool going through many different color schemes and coming up with what we have. It looks a lot better than we thought it would.”
Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

With bleachers that will seat approximately 3,000, the new venue will prevent players, cheerleaders, and band members from having to be bussed elsewhere for “home” games, saving nearly $30,000 annually, according to Mr. Bustamante. There will also no longer be rental fees for the use of other facilities, and Saddleback will be able to generate income by selling its own concessions and so forth.
“Kudos to our principal, Mr. B, the administrative staff here, our athletic director, Rob Thompson, and our district,” Mr. Nobles said. “They really did a superb job of planning this out and getting the right people to do the job.”
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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