By RON MELUGIN
Although I have personal experiences attending a multitude of football games, a few track meets, and jogging and walking countless laps (the latter which have stimulated my "creative juices") at Leeper Stadium, I want to offer a little bit on information about the birth of Leeper Stadium.
At a Gainesville School Board meeting on February 3, 1925, Dr. C. R. Johnson, board member announced that J. D. Leeper would donate "sufficient funds to erect a handsome and substantial stadium on the High School Athletic Grounds." Leeper's offer was enthusiastically accepted by a unanimous board vote of Dr. Johnson, J. H. Johnson, C. E. Marshall, J. A. Atchison, and L. W. Kuser.
James D. Leeper and his brother Graves founded Leeper Brothers Lumber Company in the late 1800s. The Gainesville lumber company was located on Chestnut Street in downtown, but this successful lumber company also had locations in Bowie, Denison, Decatur, and Oklahoma. Leeper was also a co-founder of Hesperian Building and Savings Association. His wife Nettie was a founder of the XLI Club, a women's literary and cultural club patterned after a similar club in Denison. It was a long-time promoter of cultural activities in Gainesville.
The new stadium was promptly built. The Gainesville Register pronounced it "one of the finest high school athletic fields in the state," although it featured a grandstand only on the east side of the field." An ornamental fence surrounded the stadium. A high school athletic council would raise money for lights in 1932.
The dedication of the stadium occurred on the afternoon of Friday, October 9, 1925, during the Cooke County Fair, and prior to the kickoff of the inaugural football game between the Gainesville maroon and white Leopards and the Cleburne Yellow Jackets.The dedication ceremonies featured the thirty-piece Gainesville High School Band. Dr. C. R. Johnson presided over the ceremonies in which J. D. Leeper presented his stadium to the City of Gainesville and Gainesville school system. Back then Gainesville schools were operated by the city. The school board was appointed by the city council, and Leeper Stadium was on land owned by the city. Mayor J. Z. Keel accepted the stadium on behalf of the city. Superintendent of Gainesville schools and President of Gainesville Junior College accepted the stadium on behalf of the school system. H. O. McCain, high school principal, accepted on behalf of the high school.
This was obviously a big event. The Gainesville Merchants Retail Association voted to close businesses early for the event. One Gainesville business furnished 600 megaphones for high school and junior college students. Several of the schools let out early for the spectacle. Gainesville High School Leopards were out to avenge the previous season's drubbing by Cleburne, last year's district champion. The Leopards had lost 42-0 in Cleburne, but the Leopards lost the inaugural game by a score of 13-0 on a soggy field.
One of the members of the officiating crew of that game was Jack Mahan, Gainesville High School Class of 1916. He played fullback on D. X. Bible's legendary 1919 Texas Aggie team which was undefeated, untied, and unscored upon. In 1920 he continued on the Aggie football team and also represented the United States in the javelin throw in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.
The football game scheduled the week after the inaugural game between Gainesville and the Plano Wildcats was cancelled because of heavy rain and the need to allow the turf to recover from the previous week. Gainesville did a little better the next week by tying McKinney 6-6. The lone Gainesville touchdown came on a pass interception by Edwin Sims who played quarterback and safety. Finally on October 30, 1925, Gainesville won its first game at Leeper Stadium, defeating a stubborn Whitesboro team, 26-0. The game was scoreless at halftime, but Jim "Red" Ford, left end, gave the Leopards the momentum to win by scoring the first Leopard offensive touchdown on a ninety-five yard run.
Leeper Stadium also became the home of the Gainesville Junior College Tigers for three seasons, beginning in the fall of 1927. But that's another story.
By RON MELUGIN