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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Armstrong Stadium is located on the campus of Hampton University in southeast Virginia. With an original capacity of 1500, the stadium has seen many renovations over the years that have increased seating to the current 12,000 (17,000, including standing room). The last renovations were completed in 1999, when the north end zone seats were added to give the seating bowl its current horseshoe shape. The stadium is shared by the men’s football team and the men and women’s track & field squads.
A member of the MEAC and winner of three straight conference titles from 2004-06, the Pirates have had a hard time finding that winning magic, playing .500 ball since that time after having double-digit wins in each of their three championship seasons. Armstrong Stadium played host to playoff games after two of those seasons, although the home team lost both.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are three concession stands at Armstrong Stadium, one on each side of the field in the open end zone and another located behind the home side on the outer concourse of the field. All of them have the same offerings, so when you are hungry, just head to the closest one. You won't find much variety here, as they serve up hamburgers, Nathan's hot dogs, nachos and chicken tenders. I tried the chicken tenders basket, which included three tenders, a dipping sauce and fries for $6, and found it to be a fair offering. Wings are advertised for $7, but at the game I recently attended, they were not being served. Pepsi products are available for $3 a bottle, and assorted chips and candies are also for sale for $2-$3.
While there aren't a lot of choices, the menu board is placed inside of the enclosed concession stand, where you can't see it until you are right up to the window. A nice sized menu board outside of the stand would be a great addition to expedite the process. I didn't note any signs stating that the stands accept credit, so be prepared and bring cash.
Depending on which gate you enter, your initial thoughts on the stadium may differ. Entering through the south gate, you will find a ticket booth in an older looking building, and you then walk in through the same area in which the players enter the field. If you walk in from the north, you will find the newer part of the stadium, with a nice brick facade housing the ticket booths and gates - a much more aesthetically pleasing experience. Note: If you are picking up Will Call tickets, you will need to enter the south gate. No matter where you enter, you will most likely cross the reserved parking lot, where you will find a few groups of fans tailgating before, during and after the game.
Once inside, you will notice the stadium seating is a horseshoe shape, with the south end zone open - it is pretty much open seating with a few exceptions. The blue and white seats with chairbacks (all other seats are bench-style) on the home side are reserved seats, and the ushers are pretty strict about entering that area without the proper ticket. The section heading towards the north end zone right next to the reserved seats is for the marching band. These seats are prime seats from a fan's point of view, and I was surprised to see that the paying fans have been pushed further down towards the goal line. If you want to sit near the band and where the fans seem to have the most fun, sit in this area. If you want the best view, I would recommend grabbing a seat on the visitor's side around the 50-yard line, where there are typically plenty of seats open. There are also plenty of open seats in the north end zone that enable you to have a higher vantage point than the sidelines allow. Wherever you sit, there is a track that runs around the field that separates stands from the action. A unique note about the track is that it is light blue, adding some color to an otherwise bland stadium.
There is a scoreboard at the open end of the stadium that has basic stats and a live/replay video screen. It is located on the outside of the track, and the video screen is not much help if you are sitting on the far side of the stadium - once you get past the 50, it can be difficult to see. That is also where the PA speakers are located, so if you are close to them, they can be deafening, and if you are on the far side of the stadium, you may not be able to hear clearly over the sound of the band playing. This is another reason to sit on the visitor's side at the 50.
The thing that makes the atmosphere at a Pirates game is the involvement of the marching band, dance squad and cheerleaders in the stands. Be forewarned - the band plays and they play a lot. These groups are probably among the most active that you will see during a college football game and really do a great job of keeping the fans pumped up. Based on the band's play during the first half when I attended, I was looking forward to the halftime show. I found it to be a little slow and not as upbeat as I was expecting, but all in all they do a great job, and should be proud of the added atmosphere they bring to the game.
The stadium is located right on campus, so there are not a lot of things to do here. Located in the Hampton Roads area, you have so many options for before or after the game, I couldn't possibly list them all here - Williamsburg, Jamestown, Norfolk and Virginia Beach are all reasonable drives from Hampton, and a web search will provide you with must-see opportunities.
If you're into water, there's plenty of it around. If you're in the area for a few days, take a drive out to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. It's over 20 miles long and connects the Virginia Beach area with the peninsula across the bay. There's even a rest stop along the bridge where you can get a bite to eat or even go fishing.
Looking for something to eat before or after the game? Head over to the Coliseum area (about a five-minute drive) and head to the Greene Turtle, a great sports bar with plenty of TVs. Cinebistro, located in the same shopping center, has first-run movies, along with in-theater dining and beverages. It also has a full bar and bowling alley, and is a great place to spend an evening with friends.
While attendance is down in recent years, the fans that attend are very supportive of their Pirates. The school appears to have a good student fan base for a school their size, and those that sit close to the marching band and dance team chant and cheer throughout the game. At the game I most recently attended, a group of Hampton students ventured over to the visitor sideline to participate in some good-natured ribbing of the opposing fans. Even though the home team was losing at the time, that didn't stop the enthusiasm of their supporters. While the Pirates lost in overtime, the fans did not give up on them, and a good portion of them were still there at the end.
Getting to Armstrong Stadium is pretty simple - it is located right off I-64 and right on the Hampton campus. There is reserved parking ($10) located next to the stadium, and general parking ($5) is basically right across the street and there is plenty of it available. There are gates located on the north and south side of the stadium and are easily accessible from the parking lots. Tickets are scanned as you enter, and there never appears to be a large crowd that would delay getting into the stadium. Keep in mind there is a no re-entry policy, so bring everything you need before you enter.
Once inside, getting around is relatively easy. Pretty much everything is open seating, with the exception of reserved seating (the ones with chairbacks) on the home side and marching band seating for both home and visitors, which is marked off with yellow tape. If you are walking around the stadium looking for a good vantage point, there is a walkway underneath the north end zone that you can utilize instead of climbing up and down steps in that seating area.
There are restrooms at each corner of the stadium along with another set to the left of the reserved section. They are small and get crowded easily, so plan accordingly.
Overall return on your entertainment dollar is pretty decent here, and there are some ways where you can save some money here and there to make it better. First, park in the general parking lot. It costs $5 and is half the price of the reserved lot, which is right across the street.
A reserved ticket is $25, but for $5 less you can pretty much sit anywhere else in the stadium for general admission. Don't purchase your tickets online with Ticketmaster, as the fees will add up quickly! You can purchase your ticket at any gate with cash or credit, and there are discounts for youths, seniors and visiting students that are not available online. With fair food prices, you won't go broke taking in a Hampton Pirate football game.
An extra point for the energy that the marching band, dance team and cheerleaders bring to the crowd, keeping them lively and involved.
One of the older college football homes in the state, Armstrong Stadium is not flashy, by any means. However, a convenient location for fans and students, along with an affordable price tag, make for a decent gameday experience.
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