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Official Review by Stephen Schmidt, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
If you’re a football purist, the thought of watching a game on a field painted intermittently with different colors might make your stomach turn. The Central Arkansas Bears play on First Security Field at Estes Stadium, a playing surface that is striped with gray and purple -- and a majority of the school’s patrons are now colored with pride.
You don’t have to go far to see “Fear The Stripes” T-shirts when walking around the tailgating scene on adjacent Bruce Street. The football team? It was undefeated at home following its installation before the 2011 season before losing to McNeese State on Oct. 5, 2013.
“You know, anything that’s a little bit different kind of gives you a little of an edge or makes your stadium different... You either love it or hate it. I love it. I really do. I’m kind of fan of being off from everybody else,” said UCA fan David Yarberry, who was clad in purple and white camouflage pants.
According to a source who wished to remain nameless, the school was offered a discount from the vendor if they would agree to the striped pattern. An online later cemented the design. “I liked it from the moment they announced it. It’s different, unique,” the source said. “It sets us apart.”
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".
There are a total of four concession stands and none of them can be accused of serving anything out of the ordinary. The most popular items -- that are often washed down with $3 Coca-Cola products -- are hot dogs ($3) and popcorn ($2). Other options include Polish dogs ($4), nachos ($3) and candy ($1). Your palette can expand if you get offered some of the tailgating fare from the tents that line Bruce Street. No outside food or drinks are allowed into the stadium.
At first glance, the field sort of looks like the pelt of the Cheshire Cat from the Disney version of "Alice in Wonderland" -- if the cat was the size of Godzilla. As you start to watch an actual game, you realize that it's not quite as visually arresting as you first thought. There's something about the color changing every five yards that in some ways makes it easier to track the progress of the football (as compared to a field with one solitary color like the blue gridiron at Boise State that started the whole colored field fad).
"Purple and gray look really good up there from the stands," said longtime fan Gary Reifess before the game. "It really gives you a good definition as the teams are moving the football down the field."
Reifess is part of a group called the Bear Backers, a group that has one of the primo assigned tailgating spots just past the gates in the north end zone along Bruce Street. From his vantage point, you can see the whole field. On most game days, the closed street is teeming with tailgaters, but it was fairly sparse on this day (see below). Still the vibe in the air was one of fun and friendliness to passers-by. That spirit continued during the actual game itself.
Conway is located in a dry county, but there a few places that locals go for drinks and grub before or after the game. Bear's Den Pizza at 235 Farris Road, sits right next to the western edge of campus and has a good amount of UCA paraphernalia on its walls. Another option is The Draft at 2235 Dave Ward Drive, which is just a 5-minute drive from the stadium on the south end of campus.
The non-college-kid crowd tends to gravitate to Mike's Place, located downtown at 808 Front St. The restaurant serves both as a steakhouse and a central place to socialize. The place tends to fill up after UCA games at a rapid rate. One iconic restaurant to check out is Stoby's, a short drive from campus at 805 Donaghey Ave. The eatery is known throughout the state for its award-winning cheese dip.
There are a number of popular hotels along I-40, including a large group of them about a 10-minute drive from the UCA campus. The La Quinta Inn & Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Microtel Inn & Suites and Candlewood Suites all sit next to each other on Sanders Street and receive high marks.
Within the regional FCS circuit, UCA fans are known for making football games a major event with one of the best tailgating scenes in the area. That zealous pageantry, though, was hard to gauge for the game that I attended in fall 2013 based on the low turnout. Maybe it was the fact that there was rainy weather earlier in the day, combined with a non-conference opponent in Nebraska-Kearney. Either way, it is a reasonable expectation that a truly passionate fan base would have more people in the seats for an afternoon game that begins under a sunny sky and a temperature near 80 degrees.
Visiting fans sit across from the main side in the smaller -- and more sun-exposed -- section east of the field. They share the area with the UCA band and student section, which comes equipped with a loud speaker playing rap and hip-hop and a pair of student yell leaders, who are constantly trying to fire up their fellow classmates. All of this is going on while the game is being played. For those who have never tried to watch a football game with Nelly's hit "Must Be The Money" playing in the background, it can be a little distracting, to say the least. So if you sit near there, bring your headphones or look to get seats in the main section.
The stadium is located just west of the heart of the UCA campus. Its locale leads to several parking lots within a short walk -- all of which appear to be free. On the main (western side) of the stadium, the lower level hard-back seats and the upper portion of mostly bleachers is connected by a spacious concourse that has well-marked amenities and a good amount of natural light courtesy of two large arches on both sides. There are two sets of bathrooms on the main side and one on the smaller (eastern) side that more than adequately cover the size of their clientele.
It should be noted that the eastern side -- as is the case with a lot of FCS stadiums -- is its own island. Moving from one side to the other is a bit of a confusing chore. It is not recommended to change sides once you enter the venue.
With tickets ranging from $11-$27 and plenty of free parking in the vicinity, a UCA football game has a great entertainment value. UCA goes out of its way to cater to young families, as evidenced by the Kids Club in the south end zone (see below). On the day I visited, it was Family Day, which equated to a small carnival with lots of activities for kids (climbing wall, games) directly outside of the stadium.
One point is awarded for the Kids Club -- complete with a bouncy house. It's a nice use of open space in the south end zone and a good way for kids to get out their energy for a bit.
One point is given for the spacious main concourse that offers a great view of the field with a spacious overhang for plenty of shade on warm day games.
The field was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I'd still take a traditional green background any day -- or least one without the additional purple and gray lettering and coloring along the sidelines. The whole canvas is a bit too much, but there is certainly a good time to be had in Conway on Saturdays in the fall.
Member Review by joshuca on Jan 07, 2015
The stadium itself is great with nice views from anywhere. If only we could get more people to the games.
235 Farris Rd
Conway, AR 72034
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2260 Sanders Rd
Conway, AR 72032
2350 Sanders Rd
Conway, AR 72032
2475 Sanders Rd
Conway, AR 72032
2360 Sanders St
Conway, AR 72032