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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Just about an hour’s drive north of Houston, you’ll come upon a giant statue of Sam Houston, the first president of Texas, welcoming you to the region. Not far past the presidential welcome, you’ll arrive in the city of Huntsville, a stop that can only be on your path for one of three reasons: you live there, you have family there, or you are attending a Sam Houston State University event.
The visits to Huntsville for Sam Houston State Bearkat football games have significantly increased as of late beginning with the 2011 FCS National Championship runner-up campaign, and continuing with present success.
Sam Houston State football has earned the nickname of “Transfer U” by many of their conference friends for picking up transfer quarterbacks over the past years like Rhett Bomar (Oklahoma), Josh McCown (SMU), and Blake Joseph (Houston). A new coaching staff has brought a new direction and so far has found success without the Transfer U label. If the Bearkats can keep up their winning ways, they have the opportunity to create a unique and lively atmosphere in Bowers Stadium, home of Bearkat football since 1986. If you are within driving distance of Huntsville, there may be no time better than the present to catch a Bearkat football game at Bowers Stadium.
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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".
Bowers Stadium presents you with an average selection of concession options. Those options range from hot dogs ($3), sausages ($4), hamburgers ($5), nachos ($3.25 reg, $5.25 super), deli hoagies ($5.50), frito pies ($3), and salads - fruit and fresh ($5.50).
Other options include popcorn ($3 - $4), chips ($1.50), candy ($2.25), peanuts ($2.50), pickles ($1.75), and snow cones ($2.25). Your drink options are sodas (Coke products; $3.25), bottled water ($3), Powerade ($3.50), coffee/hot chocolate ($2.25), and a Coke float ($3.50).
Major credit cards are accepted at the registers so don't worry about having to secure cash ahead of time. Also, as is the case in most college venues across the nation, alcohol is not sold and is strictly prohibited. The concession prices are, in my opinion, a little high for the quality but I'll recommend the hamburger and drink special ($8) if you're not going to hit some of the recommended restaurant options before or after the game.
Bowers Stadium is located on the east side of the Sam Houston State Univeristy campus. There's not much scenery around the stadium other than trees, hills, and the campus that surrounds it. Opened in 1986, Bowers Stadium has a listed capacity of 14,000 and has seen little change over the years until a video scoreboard was added in 2006 (located in the north end zone) and new chairback seating was added to the west side stands in 2012.
The Ron Mafrige Field House sits in the south end zone and provides some club seating options at the top level. Bowers Stadium has single deck stands on both the east and west sides which stretch from about the 5 yard lines on each side of the field. Grassy berms connect the field house to the stands in the southeast and southwest corners and connect the stands in the northwest and northeast corners to a major stadium entrance.
The field surface is Real Grass Pro artificial turf which was installed in 2007. The concourses on both the east and west sides of the stadium sit at the top of the stands with concession options and restrooms.
If you're a visiting fan, you'll find fellow fans gathered on the east side. The student section stretches from the NE corner all the way to the 40 yard line on the SE side of the east stands. If you get there early and think you've scored great 50 yard line seats, you'll soon decide to move on over to the NE corner (around the 20-30 yard line area) to avoid the rowdy student crowd. The student crowd is an obstacle for visiting fans when the Bearkats are winning but if the team picks up a few losses you can expect it to thin out quite a bit.
The Bearkat Marching Band is located at about the 15 yard line on the NE side and is a decent sized group for an FCS school. The cheerleaders and dance team switch each quarter between the corners of the stands. Sammy Bearkat is one of the better FCS mascots in the country. From the beginning, he's in the game, interactive, and fun.
One negative mark here is the sound system. The sole source of sound for the music system/PA comes from the field house. Expect to be spooked by a quick loud sound bite a few times if you're sitting closer to the south side due to having to blast the sound from the south side to reach all the way over to the north side. Also, don't be surprised if the staffer in charge of music forgets to turn off the desktop clicks and sounds from the laptop he/she is using to play the music.
As mentioned above, if you're headed to Huntsville, chances are you are coming in for a Bearkat athletic event if you don't live there or have folks to visit. Luckily, Houston is nearby. Look into spending some time in a suburb north of Houston, The Woodlands.
If you're planning to spend additional time in Huntsville, locals recommend the following restaurant options: Homestead on 19th Street, Farmhouse Café, Zach's Bar and Grill, and McKenzie's Barbeque.
Your best bet for night/weekend's stay in Huntsville is the University Hotel on the campus of Sam Houston State University. For area attractions and entertainment, be sure to make a stop at the Sam Houston Statue which is accessible just off I-45 south of Huntsville. Locals also recommend the following additional options: Texas Prison Museum and Sam Houston's grave site.
If you were to rate Bearkat fans prior to the championship runner-up run in 2011, it certainly wouldn't be a glowing score. However, since mid-2011 the student section crowd has regularly filled up the east side stands and stayed loud throughout the game. There is a dedicated group of hard-core student fans known as the Kat Krazies who call the first few rows of the east side stands around the 50 yard line home. Hanging in front of the first row rail is metal "Kat Krazies" sign which four to five Krazies are likely to be found banging with mallets during key game situations. The Kat Krazies were around prior to the 2011 season, but may have been the only ones on the east side other than the band for many home games during non-championship years.
The west side, however, is an entirely different experience. The only change since 2011 is the amount of folks who fill the seats. If it wasn't for the student section, you could literally hear a pin-drop on the west side during third down stands. Just before kickoff during pre-game and halftime, the spirit teams attempt to lead a chant of "Sam" on the east and "Houston" on the west. You'll experience a very boisterous "Sam" and a squeak of a "Houston" by the unenthusiastic west siders.
Huntsville is located about 70 miles north of Houston and 170 miles south of Dallas. If you fly in to Houston, consider doing so through Bush Intercontinental in north Houston which will cut down your commute to Huntsville by about 20 miles compared to flying into Hobby which is just south of Houston. From Bush Intercontinental, it's a short jump on Beltway 8 west to I-45 north which will take you all the way to Huntsville.
As you arrive on campus, parking is available close to the stadium and it's free. If you arrive at least an hour before kickoff, you shouldn't have a problem snagging some close parking in the lot south of the stadium and just north of Johnson Coliseum (home of Bearkat basketball). Regardless of where you park, it's a short hike to the stadium.
Once you arrive at the stadium gates, you might run into a bit of a line picking up your tickets. After that, you shouldn't have any issues getting through the gates and making your way to your seats. The best gate to enter is either the west side main entrance or the north entrance which is where the majority of the students and visiting fans enter.
Restrooms are a bit cramped and not the cleanest (expect plenty of spiderwebs in the corners of the stalls in men's facility). When the stadium is full, expect some issues navigating the concourse as the concession lines clog the way.
Tickets for the 2012 season range from $15 for general admission to $25 for chairback reserved on the west side. As mentioned, parking is free. Depending on how much you spend on concessions, you'll make out pretty well on value per dollar.
Bowers Stadium is home to some of the better grass berm seating I've tossed a blanket on. The incline can be a bit steep, but it's worthy of an additional mention. In the break between the third and fourth quarters, prepare to be entertained with a favorite Texas song, "Deep in the Heart of Texas" performed by the marching band. If you can plan your trip to coincide with homecoming, you'll be happy to find out that it's a Sam Houston State tradition to offer up free turkey legs in the tailgating area north of the stadium.
So is it worth it? As long as Sam Houston State keeps winning, that certainly adds to the appeal. I can't say it's an experience that belongs on a stadium bucket list but it's beginning to grow as a premier FCS experience with each win. Be sure to take advantage of potential time spent in nearby Houston.
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