College campuses in the southeastern United States are often places of tremendous history and beauty. Many of these campuses have buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and their beginnings can be traced back for decades or centuries. Wofford College certainly fits this description, and then some.
Located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the college was formed in 1854. The campus contains an entire historic area on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Roger Milliken Arboretum spans the Wofford grounds. Wofford has been a place of great academic success, holding down the number 58 spot on Forbes' 2010 list of America's Best Colleges. Though the school's enrollment is just over 1,500 undergraduates, the academic success at Wofford has been rivaled by their success in intercollegiate athletics.
Wofford fielded its first football team over 120 years ago, and the Terriers are one of several current FCS teams to have played in a bowl game (the Cigar Bowl in 1950, which it lost to Florida State by a 19-6 score). The school has also won three Southern Conference championships and gone to the FCS playoffs four times since moving up from NCAA Division II prior to the 1996 season.
That 1996 season also saw the opening of the Terriers' current home, Gibbs Stadium. The facility is one of the newer and larger stadiums in its classification, and just outside its gates rests the summer training camp home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Whether you travel to see the Terriers, the Panthers or just the campus, the surroundings are certainly impressive.
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Gibbs Stadium may not be the preferred destination for those who seek gourmet dining, but the options are certainly plentiful and the prices are not too much of a drain on your finances. Most items are available from two points-of-sale, with one on either side of the home seating bowl. Both stands sell Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($4), Papa John's pizza slices ($3), barbecue sandwiches ($3), Johnsonville brats ($3), Nathan's hot dogs ($2.50 plain, $3.50 with chili and cheese), soft pretzels ($2) and nachos ($3 with cheese, $3.50 with chili and cheese).
Additional snack items are available at these stands, including popcorn ($2), king-sized candy ($2) and Doritos ($1 per bag). Coca-Cola is the bottler for the Wofford campus, with fountain sodas and bottled water sold for $2.50 each.
Most of the other food options are sold from carts along the main concourse. One of the main carts is from local vendor Philco's Peanuts. The cart contains a lot of "carnival" favorites, including funnel cakes ($5), an order of six deep-fried Oreos ($5), hot dogs ($2), cotton candy ($2), candy apples ($2), the South Carolina staple boiled peanuts ($5), roasted peanuts ($3), salted peanuts ($3), deep-fried peanuts ($3), bottled water or soda ($2) and canned soda ($1). The deep-fried peanuts certainly look intriguing, but I did not get a chance to try them on my visit. It is also rather unusual to see candy apples at a game, but they appeared to be a hit with the couple of girls I saw who had them.
Staying cool is also important in the Upstate of South Carolina - for the first few weeks of football season, anyway - and there is a shaved ice stand to help you achieve this goal. The stand offers just shy of 40 flavors, including Dreamsicle, margarita, root beer, strawberry daiquiri and something called "tiger's blood", among others. The small size of one of these concoctions is $2, with the large a dollar more at $3.
Wofford is a beautiful - almost bucolic - campus, and Gibbs Stadium fits right in with that motif. The home side is particularly beautiful during the fall, as the changing colors are visible in the numerous trees surrounding the stadium. The end zones are surrounded by hedges, almost reminiscent of Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia. The school's basketball arena (Benjamin Johnson Arena) is to the right of the home stands, along with a large area for gatherings before and after the game. Numerous fans also line the hills behind each end zone, allowing for freedom to move about, which we will discuss later in the piece.
The home stands will give you a great view of the action taking place on the field from any seat. You will also have a nice view of the teams entering the field, as both teams enter through an inflatable arch between the visiting stands and the end zone. A video plays on the board as Wofford prepares to take the field, and the school's fight song is played by a local high school band (Spartanburg's Broome High School did the honors on the day I attended - again, keep in mind, this is a college with a small enrollment). One of the school's mascots, Boss, also leads the team onto the field with the cheerleaders.
The video board is gigantic (1,485 square feet) and is visible from just about anywhere in the stadium. It shows useful information like down and distance, time outs and time remaining, as well as a pre-game show. The school has a dedicated crew that puts together the features seen on what they call TerrierVision, and the work they produce is on par with much larger schools. The board shows replays - sometimes from multiple angles - of key plays to fans to let them catch up on what they may have missed during a play. The lone drawback of the video board is that it is sometimes used to play commercials during breaks in the action. I understand why this is the case, but they do provide a bit of an intrusion. The intrusion is particularly noticeable because the game information (score, time remaining, etc.) disappears while a commercial is playing.
The campus is in a bit of an odd location in terms of walkable activities, but there is certainly quite a bit of variety in food and drink within a short drive. Mellow Mushroom Pizza seems to be popping up in most of the larger cities in South Carolina, and there is a location a mile from campus on US 29 (East Main Street). The experience at Mellow Mushroom is consistent, if nothing else, and they offer a variety of appetizers, pizzas, salads and local, domestic and foreign beers.
Wade's is a half-mile or so from the campus, and they have offerings in the traditional meat-and-three style. They are a diner-like establishment that has been in business since 1947, and the locals love Wade's. A word of caution: Wade's does not take credit or debit cards. If you choose to have a southern-style meal here, bring cash.
If you would prefer something a bit more upscale, you may wish to try Peddler Steakhouse. Also located on East Main Street, Peddler bills itself as "Spartanburg's only traditional steakhouse", and they offer fare and prices consistent with most similar establishments. The bar at Peddler opens at 4pm, while the dining room opens at 5:30pm. Renato's Italian Restaurant (a mile away from campus on East Kennedy) and Cribbs Kitchen (located on West Main) are other options for finer dining.
The world-famous Beacon Drive-In is also located in Spartanburg, about a mile and a half from Wofford. This landmark, known for its sweet tea, good people and food "a-plenty" (ask them, they'll explain) has been featured on the Food Network and in several publications. Though many of the options may not be friendly to your diet, friendly people will serve you, and it is as much an experience as it is a meal.
Gibbs Stadium seats 13,000 fans, and on the day I visited, a large majority (almost 10,000) of those seats were filled. The fan base is a bit late-arriving, as many fans were still finding their seats as the anthem was being sung approximately 5-10 minutes before kickoff.
The entry gates are a bit slow on the home side, as large groups of fans exit their tailgate gatherings and head toward their seats. If you have the chance to enter on the visiting side and walk around, this may be the preferred option.
Once the fans hit their seats, they are a rowdy and involved bunch who really seem to love the Terriers. The fans are active throughout the game, not just on third downs and other key situations. Another good thing about those who fill the stands at Wofford is that the fancy video board never has to encourage the fans to make noise, like you see in many other facilities.
There is no shortage of Wofford gear in the stands, and there are a number of boisterous attendees. I spotted one such attendee wearing a hard hat with a toy dog on the top of it on the landing between the lower and upper levels of seats. He frequently yells into a small megaphone, imploring the fans to make even more noise.
The involvement of this group continues into the parking areas after the game. There are tailgate gatherings on all sides of the stadium that continue well into the afternoon, and you can find food, games and fellowship at all of these locations. I also saw a number of visiting fans tailgating with the Wofford faithful, which is not always the case at every college and university. These fans love their school, and they enjoy the company of others.
Wofford is within a couple of miles of a number of large roads that connect travelers with a number of major outposts in the Carolinas, Georgia and beyond. Interstates 26, 85, 85 Business and 585 all travel within a couple of miles of the school, with US highways 29, 176 and 221 also within minutes. Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport serves the greater Upstate region, and it is approximately 15 minutes southwest of the campus in Greer. The airport is served by several major airlines, with Southwest recently entering the market.
Once you arrive on campus, there is very little parking to be had, and the parking that is available to the public comes at a cost of $10. The college does a great job of making a parking map available to those fans visiting Gibbs Stadium, and it is strongly recommended that you follow the map. There are numerous entrances to the campus and stadium area - Twitty Street seems to be the easiest - but choose wisely.
The stadium itself features a wide concourse which wraps around the facility. This allows for plenty of room to move and keeps lines down at concession areas and bathrooms, but the seating bowl blocks your view of the on-field action if you are visiting either of those areas. The ability to move is far more limited on the sidewalk between the upper and lower levels on the home side, as fans congregate in this area throughout the game. There are also delays on this sidewalk before the game starts as fans try to organize themselves and their belongings while trying to find their seats. As nice as the wraparound concourse and well-organized area for services may be, you should be prepared for slow going in the home stands.
Tickets to Wofford games are $27, which is a bit tough to swallow for football at the FCS level. Though Wofford has a tremendous football tradition and was a top-10 team at the time of my visit during the 2012 season, several schools in the Southern Conference have lower ticket prices. Samford, for instance, has reserved seats for $20, with general admission for $18 (these seats are even cheaper online when purchased before game day). Chattanooga offers a general admission ticket that maxes out at $15. Making this even more painful is that tickets for Wofford's 2012 contest at South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium were only $30.
When you factor in a game ticket, parking, a program, a hot dog and a soda, you end up just a couple of dollars shy of $50 for one person. The product on the field is certainly well worth seeing, and the surroundings are gorgeous, but there can be a bit of sticker shock associated with attending a game at Gibbs Stadium. There is a bit of relief in bringing a child ($12) or a group of 20 or more ($12 per ticket), but plan accordingly if you do not meet either of these criteria.
The school features a number of added features, and one of these is TerrierLand. This kids area opens two hours before the game, and it offers several different fun activities for the little ones in your traveling party. There is a kid-sized football field, a "skills" area, a bounce house-type attraction and some free area for the kids to run, while the adults can hang out in the nearby TerrierLand Party Area. This is a nice added incentive for children and grown-ups alike.
Resting between the aforementioned video board and the field is Hardee's Hill. This serves as an area for fans to gather, talk to friends and get a great view of the game without being confined to a seat. The hill is also huge for kids, as they bring old cardboard boxes, sleds and other instruments to slide down the hill, much like the kids at the Little League World Series in Williamsport. I took a walk over to the hill before the game started on the day of my visit, and I was passed by a number of kids running full-speed to get to the hill and take a ride down on their cardboard box or just watch the game with their dad.
There is a large cart on the concourse that sells Wofford gear, and they offer a great selection of items at reasonable prices. Should you not be able to visit the cart - or if you didn't appropriately budget for souvenirs - t-shirts are launched into the stands at various intervals throughout the game. This seems to be a common thing with a number of schools in this classification, but as all of us who were once college students can attest, free things are the best things. The shirts were a hit with fans of all ages, as they are in most places.
Tailgating is also a huge part of the Wofford culture, as we have discussed, and the school fully embraces this staple of college football. The walk to the stadium leads you past several lots with the typical smell of food on the grill, the sight of bean bags in the air and some hardcore fans watching other games on television at their tailgate locations. The party continues inside the stadium, as the school honors what they call the Top Terrier Tailgates on the video board during the game. This gives fans even more of an incentive to step up their tailgating "game", so to speak.
The final - and by far most important - extra at Gibbs Stadium is a simple plaque outside of Gate 2. This plaque honors the Back of the College, paying homage to an African-American neighborhood that was once a part of this area of the Wofford campus. The Reverend A.W. Cumming's contributions to this neighborhood and the contributions to the greater community by its residence will forever be commemorated, thanks to this joint venture by Wofford and the people of Spartanburg.
A trip to Wofford College brings to life the mental picture so many have of football in the South. Tailgates, friendly people, gorgeous surroundings and great on-field action will all be a part of your day at Gibbs Stadium. The school, the stadium and the town are not the biggest you will ever visit, but they just may be among the best. There are a number of great FBS and FCS schools in the Upstate of South Carolina, and a stop by Wofford should be on the itinerary of any serious football fan.
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