In 2017 Emporia State University celebrated its 80th anniversary of playing in Francis G. Welch Stadium and the second season of playing on the second generation of Jones Field.
The stadium is named in honor of ESU's long-time coach and athletic director. Welch guided the efforts of the Hornet football program from 1928-42, and then again from 1946-54. In those two spans, Welch won 115 games and is the all-time winningest coach in ESU football history.
The Super Turf playing surface is named for the W.S. and E.C. Jones Trust that provided the lead gift for the artificial surface.
Opened in 1937 and dedicated in 1960, the stadium sits just north of beautiful Lake Wooster and has seated as many as 10,000 fans when bleachers were added in each end zone. Permanent lighting makes it possible to televise games and play at night.
The facility also has been used extensively by individuals outside the University community. Welch Stadium is the home field of the Emporia High School football team and has hosted the Hershey Track and Field State Championships, Special Olympics, the 1998, 2004, and 2012 Kansas Shrine Bowl. The 1995, 1999 and 2006 NCAA Division II National Track Championships were held here as well.
In 1992, the “GOING THE DISTANCE CAMPAIGN” was initiated. With its completion, track and field events once again were held at ESU. In 1994, as part of the campaign’s second phase, the east and west side concession areas, restroom facilities, and entrances were renovated. A new scoreboard was hoisted into place at the south end of the stadium and a new landscaped fence was erected. In 1997, the final phase was completed in time for the University’s 100th season of intercollegiate football.
Hutchinson Family Pavilion at Welch Stadium
The Hutchinson Family Pavilion
The Hutchinson Family Pavilion is a three-tiered facility which has enclosed theater seating on the first floor, a president’s box and four sky-boxes on the second floor, and a game-day management and media center on the third floor. The facility was one of the first on the NCAA Division II level to offer enclosed sky boxes and is still one of only a few across the nation.
The first game at Welch Stadium came on Armistice Day, 1937 when the Hornets tied St. Benedict's College, 20-20. In 1973, a record crowd of 10,000 saw the Hornets defeat Northern Colorado, 10-0, as the Hornets vaulted to a No. 3 ranking in the NAIA. ESU tied UNC for the Great Plains Athletic Conference championship in 1973.
The Hornets defeated Washburn, 64-35, in front of a regional television audience, on October 30, 1997. Brian Shay became the school’s all-time leading rusher and finished the game with an MIAA-record 469 all-purpose yards. On September 19, 1998 the Hornets defeated Pittsburg State, 38-28, in front of 9,200 fans - the second largest crowd in Welch Stadium history. Emporia State again defeated Pittsburg State on October 12, 2002 this time by a score of 13-3 on the way to the Hornets first postseason appearance since 1989.
Emporia State was undefeated on Jones Field at Welch Stadium during the 2015 season, the first time they had finished the season with a clean slate at home since joining NCAA Division II in 1991. The Hornets followed that season up by hosting their first NCAA home playoff game on November 19, 2016, a 59-26 win over Minnesota-Duluth.
As part of the "Now & Forever" campaign for Emporia State, Welch Stadium has seen the addition of the Shogren Family Videoboard, new turf on Jones Field, and the Golden Oval of Witten Track to help maintain the historic venue's standing as one of the finest NCAA Division II facilities in the nation.Prior to the 2017 season the Hornet football program benefited from a financial gift of nearly a quarter million dollars by alum and former football player Dave Robertson and his wife Kathy of Wichita. Robertson’s gift helped remodel the football locker room, meeting room and coaching facilities.