The new Martin H. Kennelly Athletic Complex opened with a packed house Friday night at Riverside-Brookfield High School as the Bulldogs hosted Immaculate Conception High School in the Bulldogs’ homecoming football game — the first game played at the new field.

Under bright new lights, District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis and school board President Mike Welch made remarks and introduced people who had a role in funding the new stadium.

 “This is an exciting day for the RB community,” said Skinkis standing at a podium on 50-yard line before the varsity game. “The journey has been long and we still have parts of the project that need to be completed. But the wait has been worth it. The opening of the new athletic complex enhances our athletic and wellness programs for RB and for the community for the next several decades.”

After the remarks and introductions, Kia Kennelly Hatch and Marilyn Kennelly — grandnieces of former Chicago Mayor Martin Kennelly — joined a host of RBHS athletes and used oversized scissors to cut a ceremonial ribbon. 

The athletic complex was named after Martin Kennelly, who served as mayor of Chicago from 1947 until 1955. His great nephew, Jerry Kennelly, gave $140,000 to RBHS in exchange for the naming rights of the stadium. Martin Kennelly was also Jerry Kennelly’s godfather. The stadium will be called the Kennelly Athletic Complex for the next 20 years.

Jerry Kennelly, who lived in Riverside as a boy and now lives in California, couldn’t make it to the dedication because he was in Zurich, Switzerland, on a business trip. Kennelly is the chief executive of Riverbed Technology, a software firm based in California.

“He would have loved to be here,” said Kia Kennelly Hatch, who along with her sister flew in from the West Coast for the dedication. “We were both feeling a little wistful that Jerry couldn’t be here, because this was so important to him, so we wanted to represent him and represent the family.” 

Although Martin Kennelly lived in Chicago, Jerry Kennelly and his five sisters lived in Riverside from 1957 until 1961 when their father, who worked for Lockheed Corporation, was transferred to California.

Naming the athletic complex was a way to honor their great uncle, Kennelly Hatch said.

“It’s a way for us to keep his name alive and acknowledge some of his many contributions to the Chicago area,” said Kennelly Hatch, who attended Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park.

Marilyn Kennelly said coming back to Riverside brought back many happy childhood memories, such as sledding at Swan Pond, reading books at the Riverside Public Library, and watching movies on the second floor of the township hall.

“This is the one place we lived for any length of time as children … so Riverside to me always feels like home,” Marilyn Kennelly said. 

Her older sister agreed.

“It’s kind of sentimental journey,” Kennelly Hatch said. “We have a lot of memories of the town and the community.”

Fans were impressed by the new stadium. Two members of the Class of 1975 there to celebrate their 40th reunion liked the new field, but also had warm memories of Shuey Stadium, which was demolished earlier this year.

“It looks fantastic, but I miss the old one,” said Mel Soltwisch, who now lives in Mundelein. “It was the best stadium they ever had and it’s sad it went into disrepair, but I think they’ve done a great job. The field is phenomenal. They did a great job on the whole thing.”

Paul Sessler the father of a soccer player, was also impressed by the new field.

“It turned out very nice,” Sessler said. “The soccer field is a lot wider, a little bit longer, more like a 3A school.” 

Scott Hardesty, of Brookfield, liked the new stadium, but said he missed Shuey Stadium.

“They tore down the Wrigley Field of high school sports stadiums,” Hardesty said.

Work is not quite finished on the athletic complex. The top surface of the track won’t be laid until November and fencing around the field still needs to be completed. 

The athletic complex will end up costing from between $7.5 to $8 million to build, excluding architectural, engineering and construction management fees, according to Skinkis.