Nearly six years after the grand “Redbird Renaissance” project was announced, Hancock Stadium remained untouched as it had for nearly fifty years since its opening in 1963. That changed on September 16th 2011 when Illinois State University president Dr. Al Bowman unveiled an updated plan for the renovations during his annual State of the University address. The updated version calls for a new seven story, glass and brick grandstand on the east side of the stadium, featuring a state of the art press box, seven suites, and an indoor club.
The project is currently underway beginning with the demolition of the south end zone bleachers in the fall of 2011 due to safety concerns. Before the start of the 2012 football season the forty-nine year old east side bleachers were torn down and construction on the new grandstand was underway. The renovations have reduced Hancock's seating capacity to an intimate 7,500 with the possibility of additional standing room behind the end zones.
While these upgrades have reduced fan amenities for the 2012 season, the sacrifice is well worth it. A new era is beginning in Normal and after a very successful 2011 season which saw the birds narrowly miss the FCS playoffs, and an unprecedented 5-0 start to 2012, the fan base is energized. For the first time in a while the future looks bright for Illinois State Athletics. Maybe even as bright as Redbird Arena's glowing roof.
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There is your classic popcorn ($3 or $4), nachos ($3.50), pretzel ($3), Super Dog (more like an average dog) for $3.50, and Pepsi products ($2.50, $3.50, or $4.50). The medium and large sodas are served in souvenir cups which are a great and affordable keepsake from your stadium visit. Beer Nuts, which is a local company, are a unique option for $2. Hot chocolate and coffee are also available during cool weather for $2.
There is also a selection of specialty stands, the best of which feature Domino's Personal Pizza or Avantis Gondolas (sandwiches) for $4 respectively. My favorite is the grill stand located between sections C and D. They offer a variety of sausages and hamburgers which they grill as you order. The shared concourse is rather narrow. While there are four stands there, you can expect that there will be a wait in between quarters.
There is an electricity in the air that hasn't been present the past few seasons. Finally the Redbirds are having winning seasons and the new stadium has really energized the fan base. The reduced capacity has made it a much more intimate place to watch a game. Having everyone on one side has increased the home field advantage for the 'Birds. Unfortunately that also means that everyone is crowded together. The whole experience has taken a hit from these renovations but there is an excitement that just hasn't been present the past few years.
Being in the center of a college campus, there is a large variety of options for before and after the game. My personal favorite is the Pub II, which has been named as one of the 100 best college bars by Playboy Magazine. The selection is above average and the prices are reasonable. Try the cheese balls as no trip to the Pub is complete without them.
Along Beaufort Street there is a nice selection of bars and restaurants catered to the students. Please be mindful of the parking signs as it can get confusing and violators will be towed and/or ticketed. If you have some extra time, drive to the Uptown Normal area.
Illinois State fans are a loyal bunch. Even when there isn't much to cheer for they come out in numbers and are loud and proud in their support of the Redbirds. They are attentive, often discussing the action. And they can get very loud. They are more than your run of the mill fans, but it still leaves something to be desired. At points, the heckling of the officials reached an almost uncomfortable intensity during my most recent visit. But then you have to consider that the game I attended had a Missouri Valley Football Conference record 39 penalties.
The construction really hits this category hard. It put two large parking lots out of commission and reduces the number of bathrooms. If you are visiting Hancock Stadium for the first time, I strongly recommend you consult the football parking map online. There are two $10 lots off of Main Street by University High School and they are the closest lot for single game parking. My recommendation would be to park down by the baseball, softball, and soccer complex on either Adelaide or Gregory Streets where there are several large free lots. Be warned though, it is a considerable hike to the stadium. Another option would be the Kingsley Junior High lot off of College Avenue. It is a closer option but they charge $5 and you have to cross a busy street.
There are two bathrooms for each gender on the shared concourse between Hancock and Horton but they are cramped and incapable of handling the crowd. During halftime you can use the facilities on the west concourse of Horton Field House. They are accessible by going through the portal to Horton, walking across the field house, and through the doors underneath the west bleachers. They are your best option if you seek to avoid a long wait.
Bleacher seating is $20 for an adult and $10 for the kids. With a hamburger, drink, and popcorn coming to $10 and free parking, the experience comes in at around $30. While the concessions are reasonable, the ticket prices are a little high for the league. It is a great FCS football experience and priced just about right. At this point it's not a must see before you die, at least not yet, check back next year when the renovations are completed.
I like the tradition of Reggie Redbird ringing the Victory Bell for each scored point. I also think being attached to Historic Horton Field House is worth an extra point. Extra points also for the ongoing renovation. It is long overdue and it will make Hancock Stadium one of the best facilities in the FCS.
It will be a different stadium one year from now. I encourage you to check out the athletic department's official website which features a live construction camera along with more information.
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