Paul Sonetz ’93 has spent a lot of time at Hancock Stadium—first on the sidelines as a football player, and most recently on the construction team that completely rebuilt the 50-year-old venue.
But on opening night a few weeks ago, he got to be a fan for the very first time. Sonetz took his son, Will 9, who attends Carlock Elementary and plays football for the Bloomington Knockers and is a member of the Counter Wrestling Club, and together they cheered the Redbirds to victory as he marveled at all the teamwork it took to create the University’s new $26 million gateway.
“It was just nice to see the fans were proud to take ownership of their seats, and were proud to know that they helped get that thing built,” Sonetz told STATEside. “It’s pretty amazing. It looks pretty good.”
Sonetz is believed to be the only person to work on the Hancock construction project who also played for the Redbirds. He was a walk-on and played for three seasons beginning in the 1990-91 season, mostly on special teams, though he admittedly didn’t see a lot of action on the field. (He does remember the one sack he had against Southwest Minnesota State in September 1992.)
The September 21, 2013, game under the lights was Sonetz’s first at Hancock since he played for the team. And it’s those lights where Sonetz has perhaps left his biggest mark on the stadium.
Sonetz works for Anderson Electric, one of the prime contractors on the job, responsible for top-to-bottom electrical work throughout Hancock. As one of two project managers for Anderson, Sonetz helps oversee day-to-day operations and manages several local projects, including the yearlong Hancock job. On any given day, Anderson had about 20 people at Hancock, sometimes more.
It was a big job. Sonetz was there when they bolted together three sections to form the 106-foot-long light bar, then swung it onto the roof. They set up and energized the stadium’s five light poles in just 10 days.
“Those sports lights—they’re big,” he said. (Anderson will also be working on the two new scoreboards.)
Sonetz praised Athletics Director Larry Lyons ’86 and Peyton Deterding, associate athletics director for internal operations, for their work on the project, which was completed on a relatively tight schedule. “It was like ants on a sugar hill at times,” Sonetz said, describing the flurry of activity.
Lyons applauded Anderson Electric and the other contractors during his remarks at Hancock’s dedication September 18, which Sonetz attended with his wife, alumna Laura (Golden) Sonetz ’93. (Laura worked in the office for former Redbird basketball coaches Bob Bender and Kevin Stallings.)
“This was not an easy project. This was a very complicated project,” Lyons said. “Those guys had to work together every day to make it happen.”
Hancock is far from the first project Sonetz has worked on at his alma mater. Between renovations at Turner and Stevenson halls and Watterson Towers, among other campus buildings, “I’ve had a crew on ISU’s campus for six years,” said Sonetz, who also owns his own excavating company, L&S Enterprises, LLC.
“This University has done so much since I graduated,” said Sonetz.
Sonetz majored in sociology at ISU, but his family roots in construction and his own mechanical skills led him to Anderson Electric’s predecessor company after graduation. His sociology background has come in handy on the job site, as he educates younger tradesmen and manages his crews.
“You gotta work around people in any trade,” he said.
The avid outdoorsman lives in Bloomington with his wife, son, and two daughters, Ellie, 15, a sophomore softball player at Normal Community West High School; and Olivia, 13, an eighth-grader at Parkside Junior High who plays basketball, volleyball, and softball. Both girls play travel softball for the BNGSA Angels.
So 20 years since taking the field for the Redbirds, Sonetz’s family now revolves around sports, he says, teaching that teamwork is a lifelong skill, no matter where a career takes you.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.