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The Post sports writer

      Normal   0               false   false   false      EN-US   X-NONE   X-NONE                                                     MicrosoftInternetExplorer4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      /* Style Definitions */  table.MsoNormalTable 	{mso-style-name:The North Royalton marching band spells out its gratitude to the community for helping raise enough money to complete the renovation of the city's 71-year-old stadium. The aerial photo shows the end of the band's halftime performance during the football game against Revere.

MORE than a year's worth of planning, fundraising and construction came to fruition Friday evening when Serpentini Chevrolet Stadium and resurfaced Gibson Field officially were unveiled to the North Royalton community.

Prior to the start of North Royalton's football team's 31-12 home-opening win over Revere, there was a dedication of the renovated 71-year-old facility by North Royalton City Schools superintendent Ed Vittardi and a ribbon-cutting performed by Bob Serpentiti and former North Royalton High School principal Charles Gibson to commemorate the grand opening.

"On behalf of not only our entire school district, but also our entire school community, I am here to thank you from the bottom of my heart for making the dream become a reality," Vittardi said.

"North Royalton School community, we have reason to be very proud of ourselves."

Proud they were. From current to former North Royalton athletes, to parents of past and present students in the district, the first official home football game was a satisfying moment.

"To come from the days of a cinder track and muddy field, it's a beautiful new stadium," 1995 graduate and former track athlete Brad Calabrese said. "The football, soccer and track teams of the community will support it well."

Said Azarie Battle, a senior co-captain on the football team and member of North Royalton's track program: "I'm so excited for it. It's just so nice and we're truly blessed to have it."

Pregame festivities at the stadium, initially built in 1940, included numerous student representatives from the district's various sports teams and band; students from St. Albert's the Great School; and community athletic programs holding the ceremonial purple ribbon.

School board members and the district's principals also participated in the on-field dedication.

"It's really exciting because we worked so hard to raise the money," said junior Ellyn Hanford, a track and soccer standout on the field for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and active in the fundraising efforts. Hanford is a member of the girls soccer program that opened the facility four days earlier with Holy Name, the other area high school that will call Serpentini Chevrolet Stadium home.

North Royalton's boys soccer team took to the new turf field for the first time Thursday, playing host to Shaker Heights. North Royalton won 3-0.

The stadium's several-phase project began initial renovations during the summer of 2010. Nearly all projects were complete for the grand opening. Minor additions still in the works, including the surfacing of the all-weather track and construction of the locker rooms, were not vital for the 7 p.m. kickoff.

Nor were they necessary to impress those who packed the stands.

"I think it's awesome," said Bill Orr, a North Royalton parent whose son currently plays football for the Bears and had two other children participate in sports that utilized the previous stadium facility. "It's something that's going to be a focal point for years and years. I'm an old jock. I'm sure a lot of parents of former players are saying they wish their kids could have had a facility like this."

Said Revere fan and Bath resident Ron Bassak: "This is my first time here and this is beautiful. I think it's welcoming."

In 2010, a $250,000 renovation of the visitor stands and paved walkways to the visitor and home stands was completed.

This past spring, several of the larger projects were completed including the installation of a 3,000-seating home grandstand which features The Panigutti Family Press Box, a state-of-the-art building with a rooftop viewing area atop the steep bleachers.

Also completed were two concession stands, upgraded restrooms and a multi-purpose, artificial turf field.

A significant portion of those projects were funded by the North Royalton Board of Education, but the North Royalton Stadium Foundation was established to raise approximately $1.3 million to cover the cost of the artificial field and track surface.

As of Aug. 11, the North Royalton Stadium Foundation had collected $1.09 million.

"I'm very impressed with Ed and the group he put together," said Orr, who participated in the fundraising efforts. "I told him it was a true definition of collaboration. It's just an awesome group of people. It just goes to show you what synergy can do when you get a good group of people together."

Greg Gurka, the director of personnel in the district, said the track surface was scheduled for completion in the next week.

Fundraising efforts are ongoing for the locker rooms and storage facilities initially planned for the south end of the stadium.

North Royalton head football coach Nick Ciulli not only was excited to have his team win its first game in the stadium surrounded by a homecoming-game atmosphere, he also was relieved his staff and players were able to deliver to those who came out to support the program and the project.

"Before the game I said, ÄòIt doesn't matter if we want to win, we have to win,'" Ciulli said.

Everyone who left the stadium that evening could say they were part of a big win, too.

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