Ann Arbor — They will not pave Ferry Field and put up a parking lot.
At least not yet.
That plan, hatched five years ago, never became formal and is abandoned, Michigan Athletic Department officials confirmed.
While parking is scarce all over campus, there are no current plans for using the site of the track and field facility when a new 500-seat stadium and training center opens in about 18 months, part of the $168 million Athletics South Competition and Performance Project.
A legendary but rarely noted former gridiron, Ferry Field is the site where, in the first three decades of the 1900s, the conquering heroes of Fielding H. Yost’s perennially titanic teams made Michigan synonymous nationally with the new, exploding phenomenon of college football.
And it was there that a Buckeye, of all people, provided the greatest performance in the history of track and field during what is commonly called “the greatest 45 minutes in sports history.”
Jesse Owens tied one and set three world records at the 1935 Big Ten Track and Field Championships, while contending with the bald racial intolerance of the time, a year before he made things plain to Adolph Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
“To me, it’s a great Michigan icon, and I would hate to see that thing paved over,” said Dr. Robert Soderstrom, a physician in Flint and the author of “The Big House: Fielding H. Yost and the Building of Michigan Stadium.”
“It has great, great historical significance. To think that they would consider making it a parking lot just kills me.”
Perish the thought.
Part of one of the largest expansions in the history of the sprawling athletic campus, the new facilities, now under construction south along State Street from the current plant, will serve as the training and competition area for two-thirds of Michigan athletes.
About 310,000 gross square feet of space will accommodate men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s lacrosse, women’s rowing and men’s and women’s soccer.
They have run track on Ferry Field since 1906.
Plans and computer-generated graphics for the massive project in 2012 showed the land of Ferry Field as a parking lot, running from behind the Canham Natatorium to the west and Schembechler Hall to the east.
But it never became a formal proposal.
“I believe it had been briefly rumored under Dave Brandon years ago that the track could be replaced, but no plans were ever presented to the regents,” said Kurt Svoboda, associate athletic director.
“Our current South Competition project is ongoing. But the current track remains with no other proposals by the current administration.
“The Jesse Owens plaque remains at the corner nearest the South State Street entrance, as well.”
Of the future, Svoboda said, he hears no current discussion of what to do with the old track and field area.
Yost did pretty well with it, back in the day.
The Wolverines were a juggernaut in the first half of The Roaring ’20s. They followed their undefeated, war-shortened season in 1918 with two more undefeated in 1922 and 1923, led by the All-American halfback and punter Harry Kipke.
Yost, who fashioned the early “hurry-up offense” and invented the position of linebacker, called the 1925 team “the greatest football team I have ever coached.”
That said a lot. But that Yost team included “The Benny-to-Bennie Show.”
Benny Friedman, the quarterback, halfback and two-way player, emerged as consensus All-American in 1925 and 1926 and is in both the college and professional football halls of fame.
Bennie Oosterbaan, a three-time All-American end and two-time All-American basketball player, ranks with Tom Harmon, Charles Woodson and a handful of others as the greatest in Michigan history. Oosterbaan went on to coach football, basketball and baseball at the university.
In 1925, he led the Big Ten with eight touchdowns and the team outscored opponents 227-3, losing only to Northwestern at Soldier Field, 3-2.
Yost, who won six national championships, 10 Big Ten Titles and compiled a record of 165-29-10, created an overwhelming demand for tickets. Throngs remained outside Ferry Field throughout games when they could not gain admission.
In 1923, an estimated 50,000 attended the Ohio State game when the capacity was 42,000.
Yost used the booming interest in the team and the sport to leverage support for Michigan Stadium, despite significant opposition, including among the UM Board of Regents.
“It still, basically, remains where it always was,” Soderstrom said of Ferry Field.
“In fact, the flag pole that is there is still where the flagpole was when Michigan played there,” he said “The track is essentially the same.
“Where the great big I.M. (Intramural Sports) Building is now is where the north stands were. And they had a cement stand, it was a permanent stand that was on the south side where you now see the small stands they use for track meets and stuff.
“But at that time they had a pretty fair-sized cement stand that probably sat 10 to 15 thousand people,” Soderstram said.
“Yost could squeeze 45,000 people in there.”
It was the largest stadium among any of the football powers in what was the called “the west,” until they built Ohio Stadium in Columbus in 1922 and sat 65,000.
When Yost arrived in Ann Arbor, the team played at Regents Field, which was adjacent to Ferry Field on the current site of Schembechler Hall.
There, beginning in 1901, the Yost teams won four consecutive national championships and the “Point-a-Minute” team of that first season outscored opponents 550-0.
Yost recalled fans watching from horse-drawn buggies and carriages, beyond the perimeter fence, when the capacity of the stadium was growing from 800 to 1,500 in his first few seasons.
Spurred by the success of Yost’s teams, a crowd of 17,000 attended the last game at Regents Field in 1905.
But Dexter Ferry of Detroit, who owned the largest seed company in the world, had donated 17 acres of land adjacent to Regents Field for the new stadium.
Michigan won six of its 11 national championships in football at Regents Field or Ferry Field.
But they did not exceed the transcendent athletic performance of Owens.
Historic day for Owens
At a time when track and field had far higher public profile and a year before the Summer Olympics, he arrived at Ferry Field for the conference championships on May 25, 1935.
It was not clear he could compete, having fallen, injuring his tail bone five days earlier.
At 3:15 p.m., Owens tied the world record for the 100 yard dash at 9.4 seconds.
Despite being limited to one jump because of his injury, he set the world record in the broad jump, 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches at 3:25 p.m. Owens broke the old record by more than a half-foot, and his new record stood for 23 years.
Nine minutes later, Owens set the world record in the 220-yard dash at 20.3 seconds
He would have to wait 26 minutes, until 4 o’clock, to set the world record in the 200-yard low hurdles at 22.6 seconds.
A plaque commemorating Owens’ accomplishment stands at the southeast corner of Ferry Field.
In Columbus, Owens had to live off campus with other black athletes.
He received no scholarship and worked part-time jobs to pay for college.
The next year, in front of the Nazi dictator who expected German athletes to dominate at the Summer Games, Owens won four gold medals.
Hitler never shook his hand.
Neither did President Franklin D. Roosevelt.