Students, athletes and fans returning to SUNY Cortland this week will see some impressive changes at the football team’s home field.
They’ll see new turf, a new scoreboard, new fencing and a brand-new name; all designed to improve safety and enhance the experience of players and fans.
The facility is now officially the James J. Grady ’50, M ’61 Field at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex — or Grady Field, for short — thanks to an historic, million-dollar gift from Chris Grady ’79 to the university in honor of his father.
A formal naming ceremony will occur during the Red Dragons’ home football game against Utica University on Saturday, Oct. 7. In addition to football, Grady Field is the primary home competition venue of Cortland’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams and a secondary venue for men’s and women’s soccer.
“If you haven’t seen it yet, the field feels like Cortland,” said Associate Athletics Director Jaclyn Lawrence of the renovations. “It now features our primary logo in the center, and the red endzones and sideline boxes pop off the turf. It really is beautiful. We are truly fortunate to play in one of the best sporting facilities in the state.”
The new, artificial turf replaces a surface that was nearing the end of its useful life and was beginning to become matted and threadbare. The project also corrected drainage issues that had been occurring in late winter and early spring when the lacrosse team needed to use the field.
“After much analysis and consideration, it was determined that the only way to improve the drainage was to completely replace the entire subbase and all existing drainage,” said Dillon Young, lead construction manager for the university’s Facilities Planning, Design and Construction Office. The work was done in a way that allowed any reusable material to be put back on top of the new subbase, keeping hundreds of tons of rubber and sand out of Cortland County’s landfill, Dillon said.
“We didn’t want to mess this one up,” Lawrence said of the high-profile facility. “I think within our department we must have sent renditions back and forth 20 times to make sure we had the look we wanted.
“After over a year of planning and countless emails, meetings and calls, when I walked out to the stadium and saw the completed project in front of me, not on a sheet of paper, I couldn’t have been happier.”
The new, state-of-the-art scoreboard stands 28 feet tall. Its width is the length of a school bus. Its high-resolution screen has the ability to run video footage, better graphics and game replays, and is tied into the stadium sound system.
“The Daktronics video display installed at Grady Field is the same technology and clarity used for the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Carolina Panthers,” said Adam Snyder of Toth’s Sports, the firm that installed the scoreboard project.
Toth also installed a secondary, traditional fixed digit scoreboard on the Carl A. “Chugger” Davis Building to increase visibility from all angles of the stadium. They installed new game clocks include backlit advertisement panels for sponsors, Dillon said.
“The technology has greatly improved, and the new full video board will provide a much greater fan experience,” he said.
The original 4-foot-high galvanized chain link fence surrounding the field was replaced by a more aesthetically pleasing black vinyl-coated chain link fence.
The new fence is 10-feet-tall, which will improve safety for both fans and athletes, Lawrence said.
For Chris Grady, there’s no name better to be permanently identified with SUNY Cortland athletics than of his father, Jim Grady, who played football as a quarterback for the Red Dragons.
“My father had a great college experience,” Chris said. “He went back for his master’s there and went back summers. Cortland represented his career. As he got older, we always talked about Cortland and Cortland sports teams.
“One year, toward the end of his life, he asked If I could apply for a C-Club membership for him,” Grady said of the university’s C-Club Hall of Fame organization, which supports Cortland athletics. “That stuck in my head. He ended up passing (in Feb. 2021) of COVID, but when he passed, I said to my wife, ‘A donation to Cortland in his name would be way better for him. He’ll feel it wherever he is in heaven.’ I think that is perfect for him.”
When today’s athletes walk onto Grady Field, they will be part of that tribute. The turf they play on represents the ideals that Chris says his father believed in: fair play, hard work, and appreciation of life.
Jim Grady balanced raising a loving family with his wife, Pat (Mary Patricia), while working long hours to support seven kids. The dedication that drove Jim as a father also drove him as a man. He served in World War II, graduated college in three years, and inspired a generation as an educator, coach and athletic director at Wantagh High School on Long Island. He was honored as the winningest varsity high school baseball coach in New York state and began a post-retirement career in Chris’ investment services company as a financial planner.
Chris is currently senior vice president of sales at Athene Annuity & Life Assurance Company, an enterprise he helped start.
Chris Grady’s generous gift to the university will help support SUNY Cortland Athletics and will establish the Christopher J. Grady ’79 Scholarship, for business economics students, and the Terry Bedell Grady ’80 Scholarship, for physical education students. The scholarships are named after Chris and his wife.
Chris said he chose to give back to SUNY Cortland not only because of his family’s history, but because he views it as a place that gave him experiences that shaped his future.
Chris’ brothers add to the family’s legacy at Cortland. Two, Michael and Jimmy, spent time on campus before transferring. A third brother, Joe Grady ’90, transferred to Cortland and was an All-ECAC safety for the Red Dragons when the team finished 11-1 and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in 1988.
Chris Grady said embracing opportunities at SUNY Cortland taught him a lot about life, helped develop his negotiation skills and encouraged him to look beyond his major in physical education for job opportunities. It’s also part of the idea behind the new scholarships. He hopes they help students to discover skillsets they weren’t aware they had.
"I’d like to give kids an opportunity and help them through their college experience,” Chris Grady said.