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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Morse Field at Harold Alfond Stadium is a 10,000 seat stadium located on the campus of the University of Maine at Orono. Constructed and designed almost entirely by Maine companies and financed entirely by private donations, Alfond Stadium cost $6.1 million to complete in 1998. The field was named in honor of Phillip and Susan Morse, class of 1964 alumni, who donated over two million dollars for the playing surface, scoreboard, and lights.
The grandstand was built as a result of a donation of over three million dollars by longtime Maine athletic booster Harold Alfond. In 2008 the Morses again made a million dollar donation to the university to install Field-Turf at the stadium. Alfond Stadium hosted its first ever playoff game in 2013 with a 41-27 loss to rival New Hampshire.
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There is a concession stand located under the main grandstand offering some stadium basics such as jumbo hot dogs ($4), bratwurst ($4.50), pizza slices ($3/$4), and nachos ($4). A variety of snacks can be purchased here, including pretzels in either plain, salted, or the unique cinnamon/sugar flavor ($5), popcorn ($2.75/$3.50/$5), and potato chips ($1.50). Fans with a sweet tooth can indulge on fantastic whoopee pies ($2.50), jumbo cookies ($2), and candy ($3).
Coca-Cola products are featured at Alfond Stadium ($1.50/$2.50/$3.50). Coffee ($2) and hot chocolate ($2.50) are also offered, and are popular options during the chilly Maine autumn. With only one stand to serve the entire crowd, lines can and do form at times throughout the game.
Variety in concessions is achieved with the presence of BBQ stands and food trucks near the entrance in the south end zone. Hungry Black Bear fans can purchase a variety of items at these stands, such as burgers, burritos ($7), and sausage sandwiches ($4).
The south end zone is reserved for patrons of the beer garden. Any fan of legal age can enter the beer garden, but all adult beverages served here must remain in this area. Thirsty football fans can partake of several brands of beer, including Miller Lite ($5), Sam Adams ($6), and local favorite Shipyard Pumpkinhead ($6). Also located in the beer garden is Moe's BBQ stand, serving up wings, ribs, and pulled pork sandwiches, along with a variety of sides.
When you think of people from Maine, you think first of their laid-back and friendly nature, and the fans at Alfond Stadium certainly live up to this reputation. Maine football draws good crowds, and there is a positive energy around the stadium, but Alfond Stadium will never be confused with big-time football.
There is a nice tailgating scene in the parking lots adjacent to the football field, and Black Bear fans are accommodating and accepting of out of towners. Many fans here have been coming to games for years, and have been sitting together for most of that time. As a result, the stands have a familiar, neighborhood feel to them. Even better, these neighborhoods are very welcoming to new members. It is easy to strike up a conversation with the fans sitting all around you. It's a nice change from larger venues in other places.
Maine boasts a large marching band, which performs throughout the game, along with the dance squad and cheerleaders. The student section is located on the east sideline, and the student body represents themselves well at Maine football games. While these stands are not filled to capacity, the students that do show are vocal and enthusiastic.
The University of Maine is located in the small town of Orono, which is located in the center of the state. With a population of just over 10,000 permanent residents, the town is actually smaller than the University. Orono has a small downtown area about two miles from campus with several small restaurants and shops, but most visitors to the area prefer to stay in nearby Bangor. Bangor is the third largest city in Maine, and contains many museums, galleries, hotels, and stores.
For fans of local Maine cuisine, the popular chain of Pat's Pizza restaurants began in Orono, and the outstanding Sea Dog Brewery is located in Bangor. Visitors to the area may also be interested in checking out the 31 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan located nearby in downtown Bangor.
A typical crowd for a Black Bears football game is in the range of 5,000-7,500 fans. Tailgating at Alfond Stadium starts early, as the lots open up three hours before the game, and fill up shortly after opening. Plan to get to Alfond early if you want to tailgate. Don't expect a drunken, rowdy scene here, however. The tailgating happening here in Orono is laid-back and relaxed. It's a great atmosphere to take in before heading inside the stadium.
Once inside Alfond Stadium, the fans are everything you would expect from the friendly folks of central Maine. Even in the most crowded areas of the stadium, people act in a respectful and friendly manner towards each other. Alfond Stadium is large enough to accommodate a decent crowd, but small enough to remain intimate and friendly. It's the best of both worlds.
The student body turns out in respectable numbers for Black Bear football game. While they don't pack the bleacher sections reserved for students, their numbers are good enough to make their chants heard. Better yet, the majority of the students remain for the whole game.
Alfond Stadium is easy to get to from Interstate 95. Simply take exit 193 (Stillwater Ave), turn towards the shopping center, take a right onto College Ave, and turn left onto Munson Rd at the first University of Maine sign. The campus is located about two miles from the highway, and all the athletic facilities are grouped together on the northern edge of campus. Be careful if coming to a game close to kickoff, as all roads to the university are woodsy, two-lane roads, and traffic can back up at times.
Parking lots are located adjacent to and in between the hockey arena and football stadium. Should the crowd at a particular event be especially large, there is ample overflow parking at lots throughout the campus, or at the many fraternity houses located along College Street. Of course, the brothers at the houses will ask that you pay for the privilege of parking at their house.
Fans taking public transportation will be pleased to learn that the Black Bear Orono Express bus travels to and from the University of Maine campus to points around Orono for no charge. Bangor Area Transportation (BAT) provides services from Orono to Bangor and points beyond.
Upon entering the stadium fans will come across several BBQ stands and food trucks, along with several local vendors providing information and/or products for the fans. A couple of inflatable slides are also located here, and are a popular destination for kids in attendance. More concession stands and two large restrooms are located underneath the main grandstand, which can get crowded at times, but is easily passable. Beware of the giant stuffed bear in the men's room.
Fans are able to reach the grandstand on either sideline by walking along the track that circles the field, but the far (north) end zone is not accessible except for fans with the appropriate credentials.
Seats at Alfond Stadium are mostly metal bleachers without backs, with some individual seats around the 50 yard line. These seats are colored blue and white to form a large "M" in the center of the grandstand. There is a wide walkway along the front of the grandstand which is heavily trafficked throughout the game. Fans may want to stay away from the first few rows, as the views from here are often obstructed. Another negative here at Alfond Stadium is the presence of a track, which pushes the grandstand further from the field. There are stairs behind the structure to reach the upper levels of the grandstand, and ramps on either end to access the lower levels. Fans requiring accessible seating will have no problems navigating Alfond Stadium.
Tickets for University of Maine football games cost $15 for chairback seats (these are very limited in quantity, so purchase early), $10 for reserved seating, and $8 for seniors and youths. Prices increase by $5 on game day, so purchasing in advance is advised. Parking can be had in the tailgating lot for $20, or in the reserved section of the north end zone lot for $10. There are free spots available in the north end zone lot right beside the $10 spots, so if you are not interested in tailgating, ask the attendants where you can park for free. On games with larger crowds, cars spill over into lots all over the campus. You are not allowed to tailgate here, but if you are arriving so late as to need these lots, you probably aren't there to tailgate anyway. All spots on campus are a short walk from the stadium. The fraternities on College Ave also provide game day parking, and charge $10 for the privilege.
Factor in inexpensive food prices, and a football game at Alfond Stadium is an affordable venue to take in some quality football. Kudos to the staff here for not gouging the fans, as the closest FCS team is a three hour ride away in Durham, NH. This is literally the only game in town.
The Bear Necessities shop, located across the parking lot inside the Alfond Sports Arena, is open for business during Maine football games. The store carries a wide variety of Black Bear souvenirs and clothing.
An extra point is given for the Maine pep band and student section. They certainly add to the great collegiate atmosphere at Alfond Stadium.
A final extra point is awarded for the fans of the Black Bears. Knowledgeable and passionate, they manage to support their team while being gracious and welcoming to visiting fans. It's a combination not found in many places these days.
The game day experience at Alfond Stadium is exactly what you would imagine of a game in the great state of Maine. All the standard elements of college football, from the pre-game tailgate to the band, cheerleaders, and participation of the student body, to some solid community and alumni support, are here. The feel here is laid-back and friendly, as you would expect in the Pine Tree State. The football played on the field isn't bad, either. During the months of October and November you can pair up a football game with Maine's favorite sport, hockey, for a great doubleheader. The University of Maine in Orono is far off the beaten path, but definitely worth the trip.
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