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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Opened in 1960, Blackshear stadium has served as the home to the Panthers of Prairie View A&M for over 50 years. With a campaign active to fundraise for a new sports complex which would include a new football stadium, many are hoping the stadium never sees 60.
Words can’t accurately describe the current state of Edward L. Blackshear Stadium, located on the campus of Prairie View. It’s truly a situation one must see with their eyes to believe. In the state of Texas, home to multi-million dollar high school stadiums with capacities of up to 23,000, to find a Division I football stadium this decrepit is mind-boggling.
If you can look past the awful stadium aesthetics, you’ll find the spirit of Prairie View shining bright in the Marching Storm Band, the Panther Dolls, and the passionate supporters in the stands.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Though the concession facilities leave much to be desired, the menu offers enough to cure fan hunger. The winning item on the menu is undoubtedly the turkey leg. For $6, it's priced fairly and delicious. Another good option on the menu is boudain ($4). Other options include nachos ($5), hot dog ($3; $4 with chili and cheese), popcorn ($2), and assorted chips and candy ($1). Soda options at Blackshear Stadium include bottled Pepsi products for $2. Alcohol is not available. Bring along some cash because the concession stands do not accept credit/debit card.
Though the menu is very slim, the turkey legs and boudain, as well as very affordable prices add a couple of points to the rating.
It's difficult to fairly rate the atmosphere at Blackshear Stadium because the experience is so negatively affected by the state of the stadium. For SWAC matchups, expect the 6,000 seat stadium to be at or near capacity. The fans are passionate and get loud at key moments in the game. The Marching Storm Band often steals attention away from the on-field action. The band itself it worth the cost of admission. The same can be said for the lovely Panther Dolls. They truly are a show stopper . Prairie View has two costumed mascots, both male and female. They can be seen interacting with fans and joining in cheers with the Panther cheer team.
Though passion and pride are evident in Panther fans, it's impossible to overcome the atmosphere delivered by a stadium that is a couple of sneezes away from the same fate as the first little piggy's straw house. The home side seating area is an old aluminum structure that's about 25 rows tall with a press-box on top in the center. The seats are straight bleacher with no chairbacks. You'll find the band and Panther Dolls taking up about a third of the seating capacity on the south side. There's a small concourse at the foot of the bleachers that crosses from one side to the other. It's apparently inappropriate to cross in front of the Panther Dolls and band on this concourse while they are sitting in the section, so here's a word of caution if you're not sure where you're going.
The visitor section on the east side is made up of three short sets of bleachers that are about 9 rows tall which are barely tall enough to see over the visiting team on the sidelines. In fact, if you sit at the fifty yard line, it's impossible to see what's happening on the field unless you're sitting on the top row and barely getting a view over the visiting bench.
There's a very old scoreboard behind the south end zone containing the bare basics. There's a large track surrounding the football field and running in front of the bleachers. This puts fans a good bit away from the action, especially on the visitor side. The playing surface is natural grass. A few past accomplishments are listed on three faded signs in the back of the north end zone (Prairie View Relays and 2009 SWAC football champions).
I don't want to overstate it, but you really don't feel comfortable or sturdy in the stadium, especially in the visitor seats. The age of the stadium and poor construction is obvious.
Maybe even more depressing than the state of the stadium is the city of Prairie View, Texas. Outside of Brubakers Barbecue and Burger, there's absolutely nothing worth discussing. You'll find a small strip with a Subway and Papa John's. Other than touring the university, which is definitely worth a walk, there's nothing you can consider as an attraction. A few small cities, Cypress, Hempstead, and Waller are a short drive from Prairie View and will offer better food options, shopping, and lodging.
Prairie View fans are very passionate, but they are a bit of a mixed bag. If you're in town for a matchup with a non-SWAC opponent, don't expect much excitement or a full-house. When SWAC opponents are in town, however, the atmosphere is much more exciting.
Additionally, it's important to understand that football in the SWAC revolves around neutral site classic matchups. The atmosphere at the classics is an entirely different experience. The Panthers currently participate in three classics, the Labor Day Classic in Houston against Texas Southern, the Southwest State Fair Classic at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas against Grambling State, and the Shreveport Classic against Jackson State. Expect large crowds, full pageantry, and purple pride on display.
Prairie View, Texas is located about 45 miles northwest of Houston. It's almost the definition of the phrase "in the middle of nowhere." However, if you are traveling into Houston, an hour's drive northwest isn't that much of an inconvenience. Once you arrive in Prairie View, the stadium is located just off Highway 290. Parking is free and plentiful around the stadium and campus. You'll be able to quickly make your way to and through the gates (and if you're not careful, you'll walk right in without being asked for a ticket).
With such a small stadium, you'd think getting around inside the gate would be a breeze, but that's not exactly the case. As you approach the main bleacher entrance on the northwest side, you'll find folks hanging around and not being asked to move along. This causes the entry way to the bleachers to be a bit clogged. The same can be said for the concourse at the bottom of the bleachers. Not only is it very skinny, but people tend to hang out and get in the way. There are two small restroom facilities on the home side behind the bleachers. Both are very old, cramped, and the men's restroom doesn't have urinals. On the visitor's side, there's a lone port-a-potty by the northeast gate.
Though the experience really leaves much to be desired due to the state of the facility, the overall cost of a Prairie View Panther football game is very affordable. With that said, if you are catching a SWAC matchup with a good crowd, you'll get to experience quality Division I football without coughing up much cash. Overall, the return on investment is solid.
The only real "extra" of note is superb quality of the Marching Storm Band and Panther Dolls.
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