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Sprucing up the place

Foundation laying groundwork for ‘new’ Zemp Stadium

Posted: May 17, 2018 3:55 p.m.
Updated: May 18, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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COLUMNS HONORING FORMER Camden High athletes and families are available for purchase as Zemp Stadium receives a major facelift.

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As he walked around the Zemp Stadium playing field prior to his team’s football game with Camden in 2013, then-Lower Richland head football coach Darryl Page looked at the cinder block walls which encased the concrete stands on one side of the field while a newer steel and metal grandstand reflected the sun’s rays across the way.

There was precious little grass separating fans from the action. It was what gave Camden a true home field advantage at Zemp Stadium.

“This is like a cathedral. It’s like playing (baseball) at Fenway Park,” Page said as he watched his Diamond Hornets and the host Bulldogs warming up for that evening’s contest.

Home to Camden football since 1929, Zemp Stadium, the oldest high school football stadium still in use in South Carolina, is getting its third major facelift in its 89-year history and first since the demolition of the former visitors’ side concrete grandstand in 1997. Once completed and replaced by the current steel and metal structure, the east side of the field became the home side.

Now, what many a Bulldog fan has always considered the “home” side of Zemp Stadium, has been razed with a new set of stands, including a locker room, concession stand and rest areas going up in its place on the west side of the stadium. Phase I of the work, which is part of a county-wide athletic facility improvement initiative, is on track --- weather permitting --- to be completed in June.

The Kershaw County School District, after Kershaw County voters passed a county-wide referendum for across-the-board school improvements, is on the hook for the initial set of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-mandated improvements to all three Kershaw County public school football stadiums. Additionally, each facility will be brought up to code in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In Camden, The Zemp Stadium Foundation was formed in order to add further accoutrements to the stadium on South Broad Street.

Foundation spokesman Marc Jones, who graduated from Camden High in 1987 after having been a standout wide receiver for the Bulldogs, said a series of opportunities exist for former players, alumni, coaches and fans alike to become part of the stadium and Camden athletic history, in general. Jones termed the additional, non-taxpayer funded, improvements to Zemp Stadium as Phase II of the renovation project.

“Phase II, if you will,” said Jones, “is where the private money is coming in for some additions to the stadium and for some aesthetic things. Those will consist of new concession stands/spirit shack and renovations to the old locker room, which will become Camden’s new locker room.”

The north and south walls to Zemp will get a complete makeover. Replacing the north wall, which faces Bull Street, will be a new wall consisting of stucco and brick with the stucco portion being painted while the brick portion of the wall --- and all brick work being performed in the stadium --- being very similar to that of the neighboring E. Clarkson Rhame City Arena. The south wall, which faces toward Historic Camden and is among the first things visitors to Camden see on their way into town, will be more of an open wall consisting of brick columns and wrought iron fencing.

“The goal with this,” Jones said of the endeavor, “is, ultimately, to fix up the oldest stadium in the South Carolina High School League so that the facility can be used in conjunction with City Arena, with events the city of Camden has going on, with Historic Camden as well as Camden High School events which include, but are not limited to, football (boys’ and girls’) soccer and any other community or, Camden High School activities.”

In trying to come up with fundraising ideas, Jones talked to or, in some cases, met with the powers-that-be in other school districts in the Palmetto State and the region, to learn how they went about making improvements to their facilities while not using taxpayer dollars.

“This is a new phenomenon when you take on something of this magnitude,” Jones said. “In speaking with people from around the state and, really from throughout the Southeast, tax dollars only go so far. This will be something that will be newer or, will become the norm, for projects like this where there has to be private funds raised for particular extras or, additions to your facility for what certain state or local funding will not cover.”

What the Zemp Stadium Foundation came up with are four separate “naming rights” programs to help offset the cost of the proposed improvements. They are, as follows:

• A Bulldog Brickyard which will lead into two main home side entryways to the stadium. Bricks may be purchased for $100 each with donors having as many as three lines to be used in memory or, in honor of someone. “(The bricks) can be used for a member of a band, for someone who may have played volleyball or another sport at Camden High, for someone who is a Camden High graduate or, it can be for someone who is just a fan,” Jones said.

• A limited number of brick columns on the west side of the stadium are being sold for $2,000 each. Each column will have a commemorative 12 x 16-inch plaque placed on it in which several lines will be available for donors. “You can have one in honor of a team, a person or, family members. We want them to be the foundation of the ‘new’ Zemp Stadium,” Jones said.

• The foundation is also offering naming rights to the Camden High locker room for a $25,000 donation which will be good for 10 years with the option to extend the deal after 10 years.

• The two home side entrances will be pavilion-like areas in which fans will enter through porticos on each end of the stadium. The north and south pavilions, Jones said, will be very similar in design to that of E. Clarkson Rhame City Arena with its columns and archway as the two structures are trying to be tied in for a uniform look to the area. Naming rights for the porticos are $50,000 each for a 10-year span, Jones said.

“Our goal is to raise about $200,000,” Jones said. “Right now, we are about one-third of the way there and that is mainly, due to the purchasing of the bricks and columns.”

Earlier this year, the foundation hosted an information fundraiser featuring former Bulldog standouts Bobby Engram, Vonnie Holliday and Shawn Elliott as guest speakers for the kickoff event. Elliott, who is entering his second season as head football coach at Georgia State University, said, as did his two former teammates, that Zemp Stadium is a special place.

“Certainly playing in Camden,” said the member of the Bulldogs’ 1990 AAA state championship squad, “it’s more about the people going into that stadium than the actual stadium itself. That’s what makes Zemp so special.

“You have generation after generation of fans. I can remember playing backyard football in a corner of the stadium with a bunch of us kids when my brother (Mitch) was playing football here. Then, to follow him and play for Camden and at Zemp Stadium was really, really special. There are special people here … it’s a special place.”

Jones said work on Phase II is slated to begin in mid-June, following the completion of the referendum-funded portion of Zemp Stadium.

Prospective donors are asked to make their intentions known by May 30. Information and donor forms may be found on the organization’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ZempFoundation as well as on the Camden High School Website located at www.kcsdschools.net/Domain/11. Contributions may be mailed in to: Zemp Restoration Foundation 1670 Springdale Drive, Unit 9 PMB 1 Camden, SC 29020.

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