For decades, many folks believed Tomlinson Stadium, where CWU’s football teams play, was named for Jack Tomlinson, who was said to have died during World War II. In 2009, however, CWU athletic department staff discovered there was more to the story.
The stadium was named to honor Tomlinson, a popular running back and captain of the 1940 Central football team, but, staff found, he died of pneumonia and wasn’t killed in the war. In fact, the 22-year-old Tomlinson passed away nearly a year before the United States entered the Second World War.
A special edition of the student newspaper, The Campus Crier, dated January 9, 1941, was devoted to Tomlinson. On the front page, the newspaper said Tomlinson had contracted influenza in early December and was confined to the school infirmary. After peritonitis set in, he was transferred to the Ellensburg General Hospital, where he died despite transfusions, an operation to remove fluids, and other attempts to save his life.
At the time of his death, Tomlinson was a senior in education, who, according to the newspaper, “was admired and respected by many, both in his home town [Chehalis, Washington] and in Ellensburg.”
Tomlinson had been a starter on the football team for four years and, according to football coach Leo Nicholson, “he was the finest blocking back in the school’s gridiron history, a key man in the team’s office from the day he stepped into a first-string position.”
Later that year, in October 1941, the athletic field where football and several other sports were played, which previously did not have a formal name, was dedicated in Tomlinson’s name.
The ceremony was held just prior to the start of a football game between the Central Washington Wildcats and the Eastern Washington Savages (now known as the Eagles; the offensive Savages name was changed in 1973).
In the October 23, 1941 Campus Crier, published a speech given over a Yakima radio station by Lloyd “Stub” Rowley, who played quarterback alongside Tomlinson. Rowley was elected to the CWU Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
In his remarks, an emotional Rowley said, “They are going to dedicate the athletic field to your memory, Jack. You wouldn’t know . . . we know that the sound of your voice ever encouraging your teammates . . . the scud of your swift feet on the turf on the march toward the goal . . . the impact of your body as you met the foe fairly—squarely.
“These things live at Central Washington, Jack. You didn’t die, comrade—they may have laid away your body, but you are still here.”
The original Tomlinson Field was located closer to the center of the Ellensburg campus, near the present-day location of Black Hall and the Mary Grupe Conference Center. In 1959, the field was moved north of Nicholson Pavilion and a two-and-half-story stadium (with a third-story press box) was built around the field, with the new stadium named for Tomlinson.
The facility was slightly renovated in 1968 to replace wooden bleachers with aluminum seating and to add a concession stand and ticket booths. In 2018, the facility was updated further, with the grass field replaced with a turf field, stadium lighting added to allow night games, renovations to the entrance gates, restrooms and concessions stand, and the addition of an elevated alumni plaza at the north end of the stadium.