Jacksonville’s beloved Flaming J pregame tradition has become a permanent fixture now that the $16 million renovation of the historic Tomato Bowl stadium is complete.

Students no longer have to build their own “J” to burn before games — the renovated stadium features a giant, gas-powered metal “J” that will light up before games and each time the football team makes a touchdown.

That’s one of many new features that the community can look forward to at the stadium.

The once cracked and failing concrete seating of the original facility has been fixed, and seating capacity has been expanded with room for more than 8,000 spectators. The press box has nearly tripled in size and features state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment overlooking the field, and the new scoreboard has a 40-foot monitor.

Head football coach Mike Coleman said he was blown away by the new locker room.

“For the athletes and coaches, your first impression of a stadium is about the locker rooms,” Coleman said.

He joked that for the past 10 years it was their own locker room he dreaded walking into. Coleman said the last football season was long, with every game played away from home, but the result was worth it.

In addition to much larger and cleaner locker rooms for the home and visiting teams, the stadium also has a new turf field.

While the community has always been proud of the Works Progress Administration era stadium, in recent years the facility had began to show its age.

“I just hope everyone in East Texas gets a chance to come see it,” Coleman said.

Football player Jeremy Singleton said students were floored by how great the stadium looks.

“I think this is one of the best stadiums in East Texas and I think a lot of teams will want to have playoff games here,” he said.

The district installed photos, artwork and the original blueprints of the stadium in the entryway. The construction team salvaged the original WPA stonework from a wall removed on the far side of the stadium to create a seamless extension to the stadium entrance.

Jacksonville High School will hold the first event in the new stadium with its graduation ceremony at 8 p.m. Friday. After that, the community will host a grand opening event on June 7 that will include a free concert featuring JHS alum Neal McCoy.


Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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