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Official Review by Eric Taylor, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
There’s a women’s basketball coach who attended and played some hoops at this little school in Martin, Tennessee. Patricia Sue Head went on to accomplish enough in her profession to garner a street sign welcoming you to the college home of the eight-time national champions. That sign bears the name of legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt. She wasn’t born in Martin, but the game of women’s college basketball, as we know it today, was conceived here. Summitt has never been shy about her love for Martin and after a visit to this beautiful campus, you’ll understand why.
Residents of the Volunteer State will tell you that every town’s geographic location can be described as sitting between two of the state’s biggest cities. Martin fits this to a “T” (pun not intended, but credit accepted). Martin sits between Nashville and Memphis. So if you are from Martin and you meet Bob from Chicago, Illinois, you tell Bob, “I’m from Martin, Tennessee.” Before the blank stare can form on Bob’s face, you add, “It’s about halfway between Memphis and Nashville.” Then Bob from Chicago gives you an affirming nod and he now knows exactly where in the state of Tennessee you live.
A bounce pass away from where Pat Head played half-court basketball is the home of the Skyhawks football field. Hardy M. Graham Stadium, named for the longtime fan and donor of over a $1 million, opened in 1964 and accommodates 7,500 fans. Your first impression upon arrival may be of your high school football stadium with a few upgrades. That’s not intended to come off as negative or snarky in any way whatsoever. The simplicity in style is a highlight. The berms in either end zone give the stadium an overall natural and organic look that blends in rather well with the beautifully manicured campus.
It’s no surprise that anything planted or sown in the ground looks great on campus. UT Martin is to horticulture as law is to Harvard. The entire campus has beautiful scenery and landscaping.
The playing surface inside the Graham is FieldTurf that was installed in 2008. Each end zone is painted in the UT Martin school colors with the base color being orange and a navy “SKYHAWKS” in one end zone and “UT MARTIN” in the other. To follow the paragraph regarding the great horticulture with a blurb on a stadium that uses FieldTurf seems wrong and in a way it is. Although it looks as good in November as it does in September and low maintenance equals cost-effective, the fact that this school does not have a grass field is downright shameful. In fairness, Graham Stadium photographs very well because of the consistent and colorful appearance of the turf. However, when campus is crawling with future Directors of Athletic Grounds and Facilities at universities and professional sports stadiums across the country, it seems like a disservice to the students.
When it comes history and tradition, Skyhawks football has seen its share of not-so-great seasons, but they did win a share of the OVC Championship in 2006. To put that in perspective, UT Martin has won one conference championship in the OVC’s 66-year history.
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".
Concession selection is scant, but so are the prices so take the positive here and see the $2 soda cup as half-full. You won't get specialty foods as if you're at an NFL game, but honestly, why do you want to go to a football game? Do you go to watch it and soak in the atmosphere or do you go to taste foods you can order at a restaurant? You get nachos ($3.50), hot dogs ($2.50), chips ($1.50), popcorn ($1.50), and soda. It's affordable and practical. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The backdrop of color-changing leaves is not hidden by one stadium expansion after another in the tiring arms race between NFL, Jr. programs. Many of the larger schools have expanded their stadiums to the point of erasing any identifying characteristics of the campus and surrounding area. It's one set of bleachers and skyboxes after another rising to the sky and covering up any backdrop.
UT Martin does a great job of allowing the game to be the show. For some it's vanilla and boring. For others, it's perfect and pure. One is not above the other. The only wrong is if there's only one from which to choose. Thanks to schools like UT Martin, we will always have a place to go to enjoy a football game not surrounded by non-descript bleachers, skybox windows, and ribbon boards.
Depending on your tastes, Martin, Tennessee is either very charming or equally boring. I fall in the former category of tastes as the quaint and Mayberry-type town is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon in the Fall.
Ask locals at the game their thoughts on the following Martin dining options -- Sammies, Olivia's Opera House, or Addie Bea's Seafood Restaurant. There may even be a few hidden gems that a kind fan may disclose. Towns like Martin are great for finding good local food. Following the game and good meal, park your car on the side of one of the neighborhood streets (legally, of course) and take yourself on a walk around the town sidewalks. Feel what it's like to live in a community where you can feel assured that your children can walk safely to school. Imagine the joy residents must feel when they can just walk out their door and enjoy a quiet stroll through the neighborhood.
Martin is a small school in a small town with a small alumni base, which, in turn, leads to small crowds at football games. Although the crowds may not be enormous, the fans are not sleepy and disinterested. Those clad in orange and blue can get vocal and boisterous and the football IQ is high, what with this school lying in the valley of the mountainous SEC.
Graham Stadium is a 2.5-hour drive from either Memphis or Nashville putting this school in place many call, "the middle of nowhere." Once in Martin, you will have no problem getting to the stadium.
There is parking to be had near Graham Stadium, so you shouldn't have to walk too far to get to the game. There are police officers close to the stadium to direct traffic which is always taken for granted until they aren't there and you are left to navigate the choppy waters of game day traffic alone.
Inside the stadium, access to your seat is similar to that of a high school football stadium on steroids. With capacity of 7,500, you won't be hiking up flights of stairs unless you are sitting at the very top.
Getting out of your seat and to the stairs/aisle is not impossible like it can be at many stadiums. The bleachers don't trap or lock you in once you sit down so you don't have to avoid that third soda with your nachos. Trust me. You'll make it to the restroom easily.
Speaking of restrooms, they are easily accessible as well. There is only one concourse on each end of the stadium and its width is sufficient enough to keep you from rubbing elbows with people you don't know or with whom you would not want to rub said elbows.
A ticket to get inside is $18. Many schools of similar size and stature may charge in upwards of $30 for a single game ticket, so this price is very good in the current market. More importantly, kids age four and under get in free. UTM students are also given free admission with a valid student ID.
Go online (UTMsports.com) to check prices for games in the event a school uses a tier system for pricing dependent on the team they are playing.
Venues like Graham Stadium are fantastic "Farm System Venues" for young kids. Don't take your three year old to an NFL game. It's a huge waste of money and you'll both be extremely miserable. Take them to a venue like Graham Stadium. They have room to run around and it's not sensory overload for a little one like an NFL or SEC-game day experience would be. It's a great venue to introduce them to the excitement of the entire game day experience -- the smells, the sounds, the "everything" that makes football what it is in the South. Oh, and children ages four and under get in free which solidifies the fact that UTM is a premier Farm Venue.
Overall Graham Stadium is a good place to see a football game if you are in the area or your team/school is playing on the road. You may not want to make the 2.5-hour drive from Nashville or Memphis solely for a football game. It will not do justice to the entire area. You can spend a part of your day in Martin for a game, take a walk around campus, have a good meal, and then a walk around one of the neighborhood streets.
Martin is very close to Reelfoot Lake and the Tennessee River so it would not be a horrible idea to take in these Tennessee landmarks as an anchor to your weekend. Better yet, an extended weekend where you take a Friday and/or a Monday off from work would be ideal to avoid being rushed while trying to take in this beautiful region of the state.
At the end of the day, it's easy to conclude that Martin is a beautiful area of the South that is so much more than just a town that sits between Nashville and Memphis.
Member Review by pwdonaldson on Sep 25, 2012
The University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks are likely not at the top of anyone’s college football stadiums bucket list and it’s unlikely that they are even first on your list of the University of Tennessee campuses to visit. However, if you are looking for a small town get-away and catching a college football game played for the love of the sport, Hardy M. Graham Stadium might be an option for you. Graham Stadium was built in 1930 and received its current name in 2001. The stadium has a capacity of 7,500 and UT-Martin has a student body of about 8,400 (as of 2011).
117 Lovelace Ave
Martin, TN 38237
142 S Lindell St
Martin, TN 38237
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