Charlie Woodford, the Belleville East Lancers’ most loyal supporter for the past 50 years, was asked to stop at the high school under the pretense of picking up his parking pass for the 2017-18 sports season.
But after walking into the office of East athletic director Mark Larsen, the 95-year-old Woodford was given something much better. It was a gridiron-shaped cake with the words “Charlie Woodford Field” written in icing across the 50-yard line.
“What do you think about this name for the football field?” Larsen asked him.
Belleville District 201 Superintendent Dr. Jeff Dosier and Belleville East principal Jason Karstens watched as Woodford held his hands to his face.
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He was surprised and humbled — he’d never had a sweeter cake.
“No ... I don’t believe it,” Woodford said when told the Lancers football field is going to be named in his honor.
The Belleville Township High School District 201 School Board voted Monday to name the football field at Belleville East in Woodford’s honor. At Belleville West, they also decided, the football stadium will bear the name of alumnus Bob Goalby.
Officially, it will be called Bob Goalby Field Presented by Commerce Bank at Belleville West and will include a likeness of the 1968 Masters Champion’s autograph across the artificial turf.
Like Woodford, the 88-year-old former professional golfer was overtaken with emotion when asked his feelings about the honor.
“I’m humbled and deeply honored by having the stadium at Belleville West named after me. So many people have done more than I have and are probably more deserving. Actually, I’m ecstatic about it,” said Goalby. “I’m a Belleville man ... I played sports at Belleville Township, grew up here and raised my family here. It’s great to be able to give back to the community and to help kids.”
The naming of the football fields is the next step in the “Turf for the Teams” project started several years ago. Goalby, a founding member of what is now called the PGA Champions Tour, has lent his celebrity to the cause by hosting fundraisers and auctioning off golf memorabilia he collects.
Its goal was to install the artificial FieldTurf on which both teams now play.
My wife Phyllis, she loved going to the games, and to be honest about it, I can’t think of any thing we ever did that was more enjoyable on a Friday or Saturday night than watching Belleville East play football or basketball.
The newly named fields will be dedicated later this fall. Charlie Woodford Field will be dedicated Sept. 29, when the football Lancers will host Alton. Bob Goalby Field Presented by Commerce Bank has been tentatively set for Oct. 13 when Belleville West hosts Edwardsville.
“It started out as a dream,” Dosier said. “Our community has been very supportive. We’ve sold advertisements, Mr. Goalby has had several (fundraising) dinners and our booster clubs have raised $250,000 between them. Commerce Bank is also making a very sizable contribution. It’s great to see our community rally around and support this project.”
Woodford had served as a tail-gunner on a B-17 bomber during World War II and earned two Purple Hearts. Woodford spent nearly seven months in hospitals recovering from those injuries.
He has been involved at Belleville East since 1966, when his son Wick was a student and was instrumental in the formation of the athletic program’s booster club. Over 50 years, he has missed just three Lancers football games.
“It’s awesome. I never thought something like this would every happen to me,” Woodford said of his latest honor. “I’m just honored. Words just can’t describe how I feel.
“My wife Phyllis, she loved going to the games, and to be honest about it, I can’t think of any thing we ever did that was more enjoyable on a Friday or Saturday night than watching Belleville East play football or basketball. It’s just been a lot of fun. I still love to go.”
I’m a Belleville man ... I played sports at Belleville Township, grew up here and raised my family here. It’s great to be able to give back to the community and to help kids.
Woodford has continued to volunteer his time to the program and has visited the school to speak to students about his war experience.
“He is the kind of person and role model that you want your children to aspire to be like,” Larsen said. “I heard the other day that Charlie has missed three Belleville East football games in 50 years, and two of those were when he had reunions with his WWII squad. He is a remarkable person.”
Belleville West Athletic Director Lee Meyer said Goalby spoke in equally glowing terms about Goalby.
“Bob Goalby has done so much not only for Belleville West, but for Belleville in general,” he said. “There has been a push, more specifically by us, to get Bob recognized for everything that he has met to the city of Belleville,” Meyer said. “He is truly deserving of this honor.”