Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 will mark a major milestone for the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center and residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
With the grand re-opening of the Salvation Army-Yankie Stadium, with its newly refurbished track, stadium, field and press box, the organization plans to greatly enhance its service and outreach to the entire community.
"Situated on the property where the Kroc Center has been built is a marvelous piece of Biloxi history, the Yankie Stadium," says Major Sharon Ray, Kroc Administrator. "The Gulf Coast will be happy to know that The Salvation Army has restored the athletic field and track and has brought in new stands, concessions and restroom facilities. It will be the centerpiece for outdoor recreation and athletic programs. We also envision community events happening in the stadium just as they did in the past."
Yankie Stadium is not a misnomer, but an eponymous tribute to the late F. "Yankie" Barhanovich. A longtime civic leader and ubiquitous volunteer, Yankie Barhanovich dedicated his life to his city, its people and athletics. As a sign of appreciation for all he had done, city officials thanked him by renaming Biloxi Municipal Stadium in his honor.
As much as the other buildings spoke to Biloxi's history, none was more iconic than the longtime stadium, who's more than 60-year history encompassed football games, track meets, concerts and civic programs for a city rich in ethnic and cultural diversity.
High school athletes began the path to collegiate and professional success at Yankie Stadium. Soul king James Brown sang "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" on a makeshift stage at midfield in the late 1960s. Pittsburgh Panthers standout and eventual NFL Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett charmed area youngsters during preparations for a Sugar Bowl championship in the 1980s.
Picnics, parochial grade school track meets, high school band championships and even Dr. Martin Luther King Day celebrations have all filled the stands at Yankie Stadium for more than half a century. It became a centerpiece for community gatherings, and the Salvation Army plans to see it forever serve as a fond reminder of happier times to generations of Mississippi Gulf Coast residents and visiting athletes and parents.
Both the baseball field and the stadium were slammed with equal velocity by Hurricane Katrina, which instantly wiped away their storied histories with a wall of water and debris.
After Katrina, the baseball field became a FEMA trailer park for refugees who had lost their homes, and anything else of value in their lives. Four days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast; Yankie Stadium was traded to the Salvation Army by the City of Biloxi. The stadium became "ground zero" for volunteer relief workers from across the world. The interior of the stadium was transformed into temporary housing for thousands of relief workers and volunteers.
The Salvation Army is proud of its role in preserving the Yankie Stadium and a bit of important Biloxi history. The rebuilding of the Stadium preserves its past and serves as a living museum of the city's athletic past and helps revive a lagging pride in the community, and ensures that accomplishments past remain forever an important part of the community.
For more information on the Kroc Center Mississippi Gulf Coast, please visit www.krocmscoast.org.