POCATELLO — After playing high school football games away from Idaho State University’s Holt Arena for the first time in decades last year, School District 25 will use a hybrid model this fall in which Century, Pocatello and Highland will start their seasons at their own stadiums before moving to the domed Holt Arena during the colder months.
That decision seemed to be up in the air following the 2020 football campaign. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ISU didn’t allow local high schools to play football at Holt Arena, which sent the three Pocatello-based high schools scrambling for Friday night football accommodations.
As the Idaho State Journal detailed in its three-part series “Fields of Change,” 2020 proved that School District 25 had been too reliant on Holt Arena without upgrading its own football facilities. The pandemic bore that out.
But officials and coaches at Highland, Century and Pocatello high schools grew to fancy and appreciate playing football games on their own campuses — or in the case of Pocatello High School, playing at Highland’s Iron Horse Stadium — and the extra money those games brought high school athletic departments through admission and concession dollars was an added bonus.
Playing football at Holt Arena on ISU’s Pocatello campus often proved to be a money loser for School District 25’s high schools because they had to pay to use the facility.
Soon after the high school football season ended, District 25 announced a five-year $5 million project to provide fully-functional football facilities with lights, bleachers, locker rooms, concession stands, restrooms, press boxes and turf fields prior to the start of the 2021 season at Century, Highland and Hawthorne Middle School — where Pocatello will play.
It was good news met with an interesting question: Was that the end of local high schools playing at Holt Arena?
For now at least, the answer is no.
According to Century Athletic Director Mark Pixton, the Diamondbacks’ varsity squad will play its first two home games at Century before transitioning into Holt as the weather turns.
Highland will play its first home game — the season opener against Rocky Mountain at Holy — then Iron Horse Stadium will host Highland’s next three home games. Because of the way the schedule works out, the Rams won’t have a second contest at Holt until Oct. 22.
Meanwhile, Pocatello will only have one non-Holt home game before playing Highland at Holt Arena on Sept. 17. Pocatello High School football coach Dave Spillett said he was told “Hawthorne will be ready in time for us to play our one outdoor game” on Sept. 10.
As for further updates on the district’s athletic facilities, District 25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher said Thursday the district is “going to have some more updates to share” in the future.
It’s not yet clear whether those updates will include any long-term agreements involving Holt Arena. Reached by phone last week, ISU Athletic Director Pauline Thiros admitted she hasn’t “heard a peep” from School District 25 regarding its future plans for scheduling high school football games at Holt.
Regardless, Thiros said, ISU is still willing to work with District 25 on the future use of Holt by Highland, Century and Pocatello high schools.
“This is not material for us in terms of finances,” Thiros said. “We just want to be a good community partner and give students an opportunity to play in Holt. Whatever works is good with us.”