When Fenton High School opened its doors for the first time ever to start the 1969-70 school year, it was a celebration that future Fenton athletic director Ken Wensel still remembers well.
“I stood by the trophy cases down by the gym,” Wensel said. “I remember seeing a sea of faces coming in for the first time. There was a lot of anticipation.”
Fenton’s new building gave the district opportunities it didn’t have prior to the building opening. Everything was new and first-class. All except maybe some of the outdoor athletic facilities, which took some time to catch up with the rest of the upgrades.
“We had to fix up the diamond,” Fenton’s varsity baseball coach at the time Bill Hajec said. “That first year there was more beach sand than infield sand. We had to go and play at the old school field. People would run the bases and it looked like they were running on a beach.”
“The field wasn’t developed yet. We were playing in a sand pit,” varsity baseball player and younger brother of Hajec, Jimmy Hajec said. “It hadn’t been used enough and packed down enough. When you ran on the field, you gave your legs a good work out.”
That was the case for a lot of the outdoor fields. It took some time before all of the athletic venues matured into the quality athletic fields many athletes would become accustomed to.
The football field had its issues as well. Grass football fields are developed in a crowning position with the middle of the field slightly higher than the sidelines. That way water flows off the field. Apparently, Fenton’s new football field had the opposite dynamic.
“It was like a bowl, so when it rained the water would stand there and it was all wet,” Bill Hajec, who also coached football at the time, said. “You had no choice but to play in the mud. It was horrible. It was a piece of crap.”
So it’s fair to say that it took at least a few years to get some of the outdoor athletic fields up to par with some of the indoor facilities the new high school provided. Perhaps the best outdoor facility involved the
tennis courts. Prior to the new courts, the school used the courts located downtown near the Shiawassee River.
“They were awesome,” Fenton senior at the time Stewart Grove said. “The best part of the new courts were the fences. You didn’t have to chase your balls all over the place. It was a high-tech surface and they even put the practice walls on the north side so you could go out by yourself, hit a ball against a wall and get some practice by yourself if you needed to.”
The indoor facilities were pretty impressive from the start.
“No one else’s facilities could even compare with Fenton’s at the time,” said Wensel, who was Fenton High School’s athletic director from March 1974 until 1985. “Our gym was bigger than the city school gyms.”
Another gem was Fenton’s new pool. As Fenton’s Community Education Director, Wensel used it a lot for classes.
“The pool was not only used by the students during the daytime, but I had events fully programmed from the time swim practice ended until about 9 or 10 at night Monday through Saturday.”
“We had the pool and all sorts of stuff we didn’t have before,” Grove said. “It was a pretty cool thing.”
The early 1970s was the time Fenton’s wrestling program was about to become a state power as well, and they had the facilities to help make that possible.
“We had a designated wrestling room,” Grove said. “The whole floor was matted with new foam mats, and right across the hall was the weight room. It was much better than the old school.”
But maybe the school’s biggest advantage had nothing to do with the facilities. Fenton had a strong athletic program at the time for one more reason, it’s coaches.
“Fenton’s coaching staff was in its prime back then with the LeRoy Deckers, the Ken Wegners, the Duane Wolferts and so many other great coaches,” Wensel said. “You can go on and on about the quality of the coaching staff. It was absolutely terrific. They were dedicated, hard working and they were talented.”