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Under Armour helps refurbish Dunbar’s stadium

When the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School varsity football team kicks off against cross-town rival Carver Vocational-Technical High School on Oct. 26, it will do so in high style.

Dunbar will christen its refurbished William F. ‘Sugar’ Cain Stadium under the lights on Oct. 26 against cross-town rival Carver.

The reigning state Division 1A champs will line up on a new turf field, under newly installed lights, highlighted by a new digital scoreboard surrounded by gussied-up stands and concession areas.

The changes to William F. “Sugar” Cain Stadium, just off Asquith Street and Madison Avenue in East Baltimore, are a gift from Baltimore-based sportswear giant Under Armour Inc. announced in May by company President Kevin Plank and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

The redevelopment of the dilapidated, vandalized field named for Cain, Dunbar’s legendary football, basketball and baseball coach, has taken place over four months and will allow the state’s 13th-ranked Poets to play home games at the field for the first time in years.

“Before, it was in bad shape. We played on it once a year — for homecoming,” said Lawrence Smith, Dunbar’s varsity football coach.

“This means a lot not only for the team, the school, our alumni and everyone who has played on that field.”

The field is surrounded by a track that is used by many local residents for daily exercise. It is located next to a housing project and down the street from the Baltimore City Detention Center, and had become rundown over the years despite the Poets’ repeated football victories that have resulted in eight state championships.

But those victories were not hatched at the home field as the Poets were forced to play most of their games on the road.

Earlier this year, Under Armour announced a WIN Baltimore program designed to “spark positive social change throughout Baltimore and its surrounding neighborhoods by fueling the social, educational and physical advancement of the boys and girls who will serve as the future business and community leaders.”

Dunbar’s application was selected, and the school received an avalanche of athletic and academic upgrades from the Locust Point-based corporation, including the new football field and a new high-tech lab at the school equipped with 60 computers.

“We are here to stay. This is our home and Baltimore is incredibly important to us,” said Amy Larkin, Under Armour’s vice president of culture.

“We looked at quite a few schools and we looked for a school that was close to our own campus,” she said. “We wanted a school that had some of the same values and beliefs that we did — passionate, athletic minded and committed to the success of kids.”

Larkin declined to reveal the cost of Under Armour’s upgrades to the Dunbar stadium and school campus.

She said that the company’s 1,200 local employees have contributed close to 500 hours working on the Dunbar project, including computer setups, teacher IT training, landscaping, cleaning and painting of the campus.

“This was our first test school, we came out of the gate fast,” she said.

Another local school will be selected for upgrades under the WIN Baltimore project early next year, Larkin said.

On Friday, workers painted the school’s colors on railings in the stands as others erected the skeletal frame of the new scoreboard. The bright green of the turf field highlighted the garnet and gold DUNBAR spelled out in the end zones, sending a visual signal to passersby of a new day in the community.

A spokesman for City Councilman Carl Stokes, whose 12th District includes the Dunbar campus, said many hope the upgrades to the stadium will spark more redevelopment in the area, including the rundown Old Town Mall area nearby.

“It’s an exciting time for comprehensive development in East Baltimore,” said David Brown, Stokes’ aide. “This field with new lighting, turf and seating areas marks the beginning of widespread development on the Gay Street merchants’ corner. It’s a project we can all be proud of.”

Smith said the Poets have played only one game in the Sugar Cain Stadium over the past several years — homecoming.

This year’s dedication, scheduled for Oct. 26, will begin a day-long celebration of renewal, and it is also homecoming. It will be the first night game at the site.

“With us having a fenced-in, state-of-the-art stadium, we’ll be able to bring a lot more people in and have a better atmosphere in our back yard,” he said.