One of the earliest accounts of organized sports in Vicksburg dates back to 1864, when a group of occupying Union soldiers allegedly played a baseball game.
In the 158 years since then, generations of city residents have played not only baseball, but also football, basketball, tennis, golf, and many other sports.
And, for most of that time, two courts have witnessed thousands of games they have played.
The grounds that now host the St. Aloysius and Vicksburg High football teams have both been used as sports venues since at least the early 1900s.
St. Aloysius Ground on Grove Street hosted baseball and football games as early as 1890. Then called Beck’s Bottom, it was more of a community space where a number of clubs and groups met to play. This is where St. Al also played the city’s first high school football games, during the first decade of the 20th century.
The “St. Aloysius Athletic Field” hosted games and practices as high school football became more established and organized in Mississippi during the 1920s and 30s. However, it only became a full-fledged stadium in the 1950s.
A Vicksburg resident named James Farrell died in 1937 and bequeathed two homes he owned on Monroe Street to Knights of Columbus Council 898, with instructions to build something in his memory.
In the fall of 1953, “something” became St. Al’s Football Stadium. The 1,600-seat facility was built in less than a month, with the Knights of Columbus donating labor to complete the task between the September 25 and October 9 home games. It was officially opened before a game against Utica on October 22.
“The stadium will be constructed of steel encased in concrete, according to Mr. (Warren) Doiron, and will be a permanent structure,” the Vicksburg Post reported at the time.
The stadium was named in honor of Farrell and has been the permanent home of St. Al football ever since. Joe Balzli Field at Farrell Stadium.
More modern additions included a $300,000 upgrade in 2000 that replaced the original wooden bleachers with the current metal ones, as well as a new press room; several lighting upgrades – including one in 2021; and a country house.
Before moving to their own stadium, the Flashes – and almost everyone else – played in what is now Vicksburg Memorial Stadium.
The area known as City Park has been Vicksburg’s playground since the early 1900s.
It was once home to a professional baseball team, the Hill Billies, which was founded in 1902. The Billies were members of the Class D Cotton States League on and off until the league disbanded in 1955.
Other facilities in City Park’s early days included tennis courts and a swimming pool which has since been abandoned. A new swimming pool was opened in 1996. There was also a running track, although it is unclear whether this was for humans or horses, and, of course, a soccer field.
By the 1920s, City Park had become Vicksburg’s main sporting venue. Not only did Vicksburg High and what was then Carr Central play football at City Park, but a number of games between the county’s former schools were also present when larger crowds were expected. Some college teams have even played there. Mississippi College played several games in the early 1930s, and it is believed that LSU and Ole Miss played a game there in 1896, although the exact location of that game is uncertain.
Shortly after St. Al’s construction of Farrell Stadium, control of City Park was handed over to the school district. The new Cooper High School was about to be built – it opened in 1959 and its building is now Vicksburg High School, located atop the hill overlooking the stadium – and the City Park grounds were a natural location for its sports facilities.
City Park Stadium was rebuilt in 1958. At a cost of $170,000, a new concrete grandstand and press room were constructed. Its interior is honeycombed with offices, dressing rooms and other amenities.
The renovated stadium was renamed Vicksburg Memorial Stadium to honor the 32 school district alumni who died in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The first game was played there on September 26, 1958, as Greenville beat Carr Central 6-0.
Memorial Stadium has continued to be one of Vicksburg’s showcases of football in the 21st century and, like Farrell Stadium, has seen its share of upgrades and modernizations.
Three field houses have been added over the years, the last in 2012. The name of the late Jim Stirgus Sr., a longtime county educator, was added in 2017. The addition of Stirgus’ name continued a long tradition of periodically renaming the land. At various times it has been referred to as Johnson Field, City Park, Memorial Stadium, and now Jim Stirgus Sr. Field at Vicksburg Memorial Stadium.
More recently, the ground underwent a multi-million dollar overhaul that changed the original grass pitch to artificial turf, installed new lights, replaced aging visitor stands and added other new amenities.
There are also long-term plans to replace the 1958 bleachers. For now, however, they still stand, with their decades of dirt and history providing a tangible link between past, present and future. .