O’Brien Field’s namesake has long history at Eastern

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez, Staff Reporter

O’Brien Field, Eastern Illinois University’s 10,000-seat multi-purpose stadium, has been a part of Eastern since it first opened 50 years ago.

The field has a long history of Eastern-hosted events and renovations. Even the person it was named after comes with his own story.

Originally opened as Lincoln Field in 1970, the stadium’s purpose was to be the home for the university’s football and the track and field teams.

The stadium also plays host to the annual Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Finals in track and field which features nearly 5,000 competitors and over 15,000 spectators.

A regional Special Olympics is also held in the stadium every year.

Since its original construction, it has had tons of renovations done.

In 1986, the $440,000 “Brighten O’Brien” fundraising campaign added lights and another level onto the press box.

In 1999, a $2 million “Reach for the 21st Century” renovation was completed, providing new offices for coaches, meeting and video rooms, locker room, expanded weight room, and expanded athletic training facilities.

Further renovations were made in 2004 and 2009, installing an artificial turf field and a state of the art scoreboard, respectively.

The field is now known as the O’Brien Field, named after late Maynard “Pat” O’Brien upon O’Brien’s retirement in June 1974.

In 1946, O’Brien came to Eastern following his release from the Navy.

During World War II, he had spent 3 and a half years fighting alongside the Navy, leaving with the rank of lieutenant commander.

O’Brien had a legendary run at Eastern, being a member of Eastern’s athletic department from 1946 to 1974.

During his time at Eastern, he performed duties as a professor of physical education and coached track, football and cross country.

During his time coaching the track team, he brought Eastern 121 victories, 45 defeats and 1 tie. As the head football coach, he compiled a career record of 27 victories, 51 defeats and 1 tie.

His position as head cross country coach brought him overwhelming success and recognition through the years, with his team winning numerous championships.

In fact, his 1968 and 1969 squads won two consecutive NCAA College Division Championships, an accomplishment unparalleled by any other Eastern sports team at the time.

O’Brien is not just remembered for his win and loss records as a coach, but for his work as the Chairman of the Department of Men’s Physical Education, which he was selected for in 1965. Under his leadership, the department developed and approved two new degree programs.

During this time, he also served as the university’s representative for the construction of the Lantz Building and the field.

O’Brien received many accolades, in 1964, he was selected “Track Coach of the Year” by the NAIA.

He was also selected as Daily Eastern News’ “Man of the Year” in 1968, and in 1971, he was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award for his many years dedicated to Eastern’s athletic department.

Upon joining Eastern, his colleagues, fellow coaches, and the students under his supervision quickly learned that he was firm, honest, fair and an industrious individual.

He had the respect, trust and confidence of all those around him through the years.

 

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]