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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Similar to many American soccer stadiums, Legion Stadium is not just a soccer stadium. In fact, it was built in 1938 for the county’s high school sports and other local events. To this day, New Hanover High School still uses the field for football, lacrosse, and soccer. The field itself is named Jurgensen-Gabriel Field, for the two football legends (Sonny Jurgensen and Roman Gabriel) who played high school football for New Hanover at Legion Stadium. In 1996, the Wilmington Hammerheads FC were founded, and they have played at Legion Stadium ever since. The Sharks do a good job of using the football stadium they have to its full potential and enticing both the local families and soccer die-hards alike.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
When going to the stadium, you may want to consider eating prior to the game. The concessions offerings in Legion are limited to just hot dogs, pizza, and Chick-fil-A. This is not unusual for minor leagues, but fans should probably look for a meal elsewhere.
Summer nights in coastal NC can get very hot, and you will likely need a drink. Water and Gatorade can be bought for just $2, and a cold soda is just $3. For those who prefer beer or wine, those are also available for $5 and $6, respectively. All in all, the Sharks' concessions are not a place to get a full meal, but are good for providing inexpensive snacks and drinks.
The best way I can describe the game experience is a minor league game without game stoppage. Let me explain. A Wilmington Hammerheads game comes complete with the same kind of promotions, games, and giveaways that you can find at a minor league game in just about any sport.The difference is that the game never stops. Most minor leagues have the luxury of timeouts or breaks in the game during which to run contests. Although soccer is a game without timeouts or breaks, the Sharks don't seem to notice. They play music, run giveaways, and throw soccer balls into the crowd all while the ball is still in play.
The seating at Legion Stadium is standard, two-sided seating, with the home grandstand seating 3,500 and the slightly smaller visiting side of 2,500. The home side has 500 stadium seats, with the remainder being aluminum benches. The visiting side is all benches.
A soccer field is a little wider than a football field, and because of that, the seats are very close to the action. The players are extremely close to the seats, and at times, you can even hear the players' dialogue.
The ground at Legion Stadium is FieldTurf, making the field lines permanent. While it saves money on maintenance, it creates a confusing game with so many intersecting lines. The football lines are white, while the soccer lines are yellow, but even with the color difference, the field is still very crowded.
Halftime at a Hammerheads game is something just short of a circus. The team runs about three games in the short, 15-minute halftime, and watching the staff set each one up, play, and clean up is quite a sight. However chaotic it may be, though, I will give the Hammerheads credit. The games all finish in time and are enjoyed by all.
The area around Legion Stadium is largely an industrial area. The area is home to a North Carolina state port, but does not offer much to fans.
If you travel about 10 minutes to downtown Wilmington, you can find several interesting pre game and post game hangouts. One of the local favorites is The Husk. It is one of the most popular places in the downtown area, and is home to many of the team's parties.
Every good soccer team has its loyal supporting section, and the Hammerheads are no exception. The Port City Firm takes up the lower middle sections of the visiting grandstand, since they are almost on top of the benches. The firm makes themselves easily recognizable with loud chants, oversized flags, and plenty of cheering.
Outside of the firm, the fans of the team make up an above average crowd. The population is mostly families, but they know when to cheer and have an acceptable knowledge of the game.
The city of Wilmington is easily accessible from anywhere on the east coast. Wilmington is the terminus of I-40, which runs through the state of NC and beyond, but also intersects with I-95 about an hour west of Wilmington. Once in the city, follow US-17 Business right to the stadium.
Parking can be a challenge, so arrive early if possible. You can park anywhere in the lot, but it has a tendency to fill up fast. Additional parking is located behind Buck Hardee Field but not along Stadium Drive, which is a tow away zone.
Tickets are general admission and cost $13 for adults, $9 for kids. I find that to be a bit much for minor league soccer, but not so bad that I would consider it excessive. A family of four can attend a game for $44.
Sledge, the mascot of the Hammerheads, is one of the most involved mascots I have seen. You can always find him doing something, whether he is throwing soccer balls in the stands, wandering the stands, or even taking selfies with fans.
The Hammerheads are very active in the community and hold several promotions benefitting local and national organizations. Pink night benefits the local hospital's breast cancer foundation, and college night features ticket deals for students at the local university. The night I attended was a sort of kids night. It featured an area full of inflatable slides and an open field with a soccer goal, along with a crazy game of soccer.
The team also organizes watch parties at The Husk for both their MLS affiliates, Toronto FC, and the World Cup.
While it may not be the ideal place to watch a soccer game, Legion Stadium provides an adequate home for its USL Hammerheads. Though you may not think of Eastern North Carolina as a soccer area, the fans and the Port City Firm will do their best to make you think twice. Overall, you can't go wrong spending a night with the Wilmington Hammerheads.
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