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Official Review by Paul Derrick, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
On the other side of the Piney Woods from Stephen F Austin you will find their neighbor and rival the Sam Houston State Bearkats. Sam Houston State University is a small university with just over 17,000 in attendance. The city of Huntsville, where the university is located, has a population of just over 35,000. The Bearkats are one of the most consistent teams in the Southland Conference, having won more games to begin the 21st century than any other team in the conference. The Bearkats play their home games at Johnson Coliseum which was built in 1976 and has the capacity for 6,100 fans.
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Nothing overly special is offered at one of the two concession stands at Johnson Coliseum. The Bearkats offer all of the normal fare like popcorn, cotton candy, candy, chips, and hot dogs as well as Polish sausages. Your soda choices at Johnson Coliseum are Coca-Cola products offered in either 32 or 44 oz souvenir cup sizes. Overall the prices are pretty dang good, but I would like to see at least a little more variety on the food menu.
The atmosphere I can sum in pretty much two words: nothing special. The Bearkats do have some conference championship banners hanging from the roof and do seem to try their best to give Johnson Coliseum as much of a good college basketball atmosphere as possible, but right now it is a tad flat. The fans and student section were mediocre at best and this could be due to them playing against a lowly division two foe, but I still expected a bit more. The Bearkats seem to be one of the most consistent teams in the Southland Conference, but it seems as if the fans and atmosphere have yet to catch up to the team.
You will notice with the majority of the Southland Conference that these universities are all in smaller towns, with not a whole lot to offer. Sam Houston State, like its northern neighbor and rival Stephen F Austin, is in the Piney Woods and is named after a founding father of Texas. In the town of Huntsville you have plenty of options for historic things to see such as the Sam Houston Museum, Sam Houston State Park, the grave of Sam Houston, as well as the Texas Prison Museum which I think is interesting. I definitely recommend everybody see the 67 foot tall statue of Sam Houston located on the side of I-45 headed north - a definite must see.
As far as eating options, besides all of your basic fast food options, the best place I found was The Potato Shack. The Potato Shack is every baked potato fans dream spot. The Potato Shack offers a variety of different baked potatoes like the chili potato, chicken fajita potato and the BBQ chicken potato to name a few. If you're a fan of baked potatoes this is a definite must stop location.
The fans at Johnson Coliseum are at the best average. The attendance for alumni and students were a tad dismal, but this could be due to the team playing a smaller division 2 team at the time, and I'm sure does kick up a notch come Southland Conference time. The fans that were there were engaged though and cheered on the Bearkats during scoring runs or big defensive stops. Overall a decent fan base but nothing to write home about.
Parking for Johnson Coliseum is absolutely free and is located right across from the stadium in front of the football field. This makes for getting to and from Johnson Coliseum about as easy as it gets. As you make your way around the Coliseum concourse you will see that it is plenty wide enough for foot traffic making for seeing the stadium very easy. The bathrooms are updated and plentiful and I never saw a line even during half time intermission.
Tickets to Johnson Coliseum will run you anywhere from $5-$12, depending on where you would like to sit. Just about any seat is a great seat at Johnson Coliseum, though so I would suggest going the $5 general admission route. Do make sure you are sitting in your assigned section though as the ushers are very quick to check ticket stubs no matter how many people are in attendance. With cheap ticket prices and equally cheap concession prices a trip to Johnson Coliseum is well worth the trip in my opinion.
One point goes to free parking which is always a plus in my books.
My second additional point goes to the University for a Great Gift Booth which had tons of nice Sam Houston State goodies for sale, from hats and shirts to foam Bearkat claws. I always like to see the small universities provide merchandise for visiting fans at the game.
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