Just ask anybody who has attended a sporting event at Ashley Field and you’ll get the same response: “It’s a special place.”

The home of Sun Prairie football and baseball since 1953, the venerable field and surroundings will undergo a major facelift following this football season, making it an even more memorable experience for faithful Cardinals fans in years to come.

A groundbreaking ceremony will take place following this Friday’s Big Eight Conference game with Madison West, ushering out the “Old Ashley” while dedicating the “New Ashley”, a multi-purpose field that will be used for football, soccer and lacrosse.

The decision was made to turn the field — the only field in the Madison area that still faces east and west — to north and south, after an April referendum passed. Within that referendum was the building of a second high school and restructuring of Ashley Field, which will be home to both Sun Prairie High School football teams starting in 2022. (The new field will be used in 2020 and 2021 by the current Sun Prairie team).

The first game ever played at Ashley Field was on Sept. 18, 1953. The Cardinals held off a stiff challenge from Cambridge winning 7-0, their closest game of the season.

According to an article in the Sun Prairie Star-Countryman:

It was played in a pouring, driving rain which cost the home team the ball four times on fumbles and Cambridge six times. Donald Harry was the chief ground gainer for the locals and Donald Vethe for Cambridge.

That team, led by Hall of Fame coach Fran Sheehan, would go on to a 7-0-0 record to win their 12th Madison Suburban Conference championship. They out-scored their opponents by a whopping 248-30 margin.

And that successful history has continued. Playing half of their games each season at Ashley Field, the Cardinals have won 18 conference titles since joining the Big Eight Conference in 1972, including the last three.

Brian Kaminski has been the head football coach for Sun Prairie the last 17 years.

“It’s a special place. It’s a place where if you played there before you feel a sense to return and take it all in. It has a unique bowl, where the fans are right on top of you and you can feel their energy,” he said.

Mike Hahn coached Sun Prairie football from 1972-2003, accumulating 214 wins, many of them at Ashley Field.

“It was my second home for 31 years,” he said. “What you think about more than games and certain opponents are the players and the town, actually, because they were part of our team,” said Hahn. “We always had such wonderful support.”

Sun Prairie athletics and activities director Eric Nee also views Ashley Field as a special place for the community.

“The Ashley family donated that piece of land for the use of recreational sports, and it’s developed over time in the community where it’s a place to go on Friday nights,” he said. “It’s an event and place that brings the community together. It holds that special place because it’s down in that pit and creates an atmosphere where the fans are on top of you and the players that I’ve talked to can feel their excitement. It’s been a fixture in the community for years.

Football is just one of several sports that Ashley Field has hosted, soccer, lacrosse and baseball being the others.

Larry Calkins played for and coached the Sun Prairie Home Talent League amateur baseball team that called Ashley Field home since its inception, but no longer will. With the reconfiguration of the new field, the baseball diamond will be eliminated.

“This has always been a natural amphitheater for football and baseball,” said Calkins, who played on seven and was head coach of the two of the Red Birds’ 13 HTL championship teams.

DID YOU KNOW??

Ashley Field hosted a WIAA state football championship game. In 1979, when state finals were still played at neutral sites before moving to Camp Randall Stadium in 1982, Ashley was the site for the Division 5 final between Cambridge and Cashton. Cambridge won, 10-7.

George Conom scored first touchdown on Ashley Field in the fall of 1953.

• The Agriculture Department at the original Sun Prairie High School assembled the first light poles for the baseball diamond and spread the dirt and clay to an infield?

The goal posts used to be permanent and the baseball teams would have to put pads around them so they didn’t run into them and get injured during their games?

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