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Official Review by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Nestled deep in the Piney Woods region of East Texas is the city of Huntsville, home to the Sam Houston State University BearKats. Currently playing as part of the Southland Conference, the school has fielded a men's basketball team since 1917. In 1976 the BearKats moved into their current home, the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum; this multipurpose building is home to both men's and women's basketball and the volleyball team.
The arena underwent significant renovations this past fall, and opened just in time for men's basketball season. The venue still retains the charm that has become its hallmark, while also "growing up" to meet the demands and needs of Houston State's fans and student athletes.
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One of the aforementioned charms that the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum still retains, despite the facelift it received, is how the facility still has a small town feel. This is reflected in virtually every aspect of the arena, including the food options. The concessions stands, of which there are more than an ample number, offer the fare you would expect from a small town arena. Popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, chips, candy, and soda - all are available, and at a relatively low cost.
There are a few standout items here to be on the lookout for. Certain games feature brisket and chopped beef sandwiches; in Texas, barbecue is very close to a religion, and should always be sampled on every occasion that presents itself. Besides the barbecue, another star to be on the lookout for are the signature Big Arnold Burgers; you can get these as singles or doubles, and either with or without bacon (but it should always be with). Domino's pizza is also available at most stands; it can be bought either as a whole pizza or by the slice.
The atmosphere at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum is one of its major selling points, and the renovations have added even more to the overall experience. A new video board was added in time for this season; there is nothing better than catching a replay or watching game highlights on a nice, high-definition video screen.
Despite the number of seats in the venue, the facility still retains an intimacy that you can only find in some of the best small school arenas. The close proximity to the court and the acoustics from the home team fans both add to the atmosphere.
The area of Huntsville where Sam Houston State is located is very typical of any small college town in America. Near the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum you will find other university buildings, businesses supporting the university and its students, and all of the typical small town restaurants and shops.
For history buffs, the area is ripe with attractions celebrating the university's namesake, the former senator, governor, and president of Texas, Sam Houston. A giant statue of him, the third tallest free-standing statue in the country, is unmissable off of Highway 45. In addition, his burial site, as well as a state park and national forest, are all within the city's limits. Or, if you are interested in a more off-the-wall attraction, make time to visit the Texas Prison Museum.
In addition to historical attractions, there are hotels aplenty in the Huntsville area; if you don't mind the drive, however, Houston is just under an hour away.
BearKats fans have had a lot to cheer about in recent years, as their squad has been very successful lately; the team has made the NCAA tournament three times, and has won the Southland Conference twice.
As the school and its teams are virtually the "only game in town," the fans retain that great quality found in all passionate small town fans - they're energetic, they're vocal, and they show up in droves. BearKats fans have also taken up the recent phenomenon in college sports of bringing giant cut out heads of celebrities to the game, and waving them behind the goal as the visitors shoot free throws. Wonderful signature touches include very Huntsville-centric cutouts of Sam Houston and alum Dan Rather; it is pretty fun to see.
Highway 45 runs directly through the middle of Huntsville; this thoroughfare will get you into town and to most of its businesses fairly easily. However, to get to the university and to Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum, you will have to navigate the twists and turns of a residential neighborhood (much of which is student housing). That said, plan on giving yourself just a little extra time when you are heading to a game.
If you weigh out what you are getting against the cost to attend a game at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum, you are truly coming out ahead. Single game tickets range from $5 to $15 depending on where you want to sit, parking is free, and the most expensive concessions items are well under $10.
Coupling all of that together, and taking into account that you are going to see some pretty good basketball, you are in for a cost-effective, great evening of college hoops. In addition, most nights feature doubleheaders with both the men's and women's teams.
As with all college athletics, the pageantry is part of the package when it comes to the game day experience. At Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum, this pageantry is in the form of getting to experience the Orange Pride dance team multiple times per game during timeouts. Houston State's dance team is renowned for their athletic routines, and they pull out all the stops for basketball games.
The BearKats band, though relatively small, is as lively as any you will find in college sports. They are known to bring out some '70s funk style songs at just the right moment in the game, and it is virtually impossible not to clap when they play Deep in the Heart of Texas. There is also the larger-than-life orange BearKat mascot Sammy; he constantly prowls Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum, and will be a joy for any little ones that you might bring to the game.
Huntsville is a unique part of Texas that is unlike any other in the state. The area has a history and style all its own, and that is reflected at Sam Houston State and at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum. If you are ever in the mood to get away from Houston, or need to stretch your legs beyond Austin or San Antonio, you shouldn't miss the chance to catch a BearKats game.
Follow Eric Moreno's Stadium Journey on Twitter @EricMoreno6477.
Member Review by pderrick
On the other side of the Piney Woods from Stephen F Austin you will find their neighbor and rival the Sam Houston State Bearkats. Sam Houston State University is a small university with just over 17,000 in attendance. The city of Huntsville, where the university is located, has a population of just over 35,000. The Bearkats are one of the most consistent teams in the Southland Conference, having won more games to begin the 21st century than any other team in the conference. The Bearkats play their home games at Johnson Coliseum which was built in 1976 and has the capacity for 6,100 fans.
7600 Highway 75 South
Huntsville, TX 77340
(Sam Houston Burial Site)
Huntsville, TX 77320
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