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Official Review by Stephen Schmidt, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When it comes to Missouri State University football, tailgating is a pretty big deal. This is a movement that begins and ends with BearFest Village, an area across Grand Street from the Plaster Sports Complex that blossoms in popularity every year, regardless of the team’s success.
Some would point to the fact that the village’s growth came as a result from the fact that alcohol is allowed on the premises because technically it’s located off of school grounds (MSU is a dry campus). Others would say that the students and alumni just like to have a good time -- and an MSU football game provides a perfect avenue, especially during Homecoming weekend.
“I think they do a good job of making it a big event to come back to campus. Homecoming here is a big deal,” said Dave Rush, an MSU alumnus who had been informed that the largest amount of tents in school history had been set up hours before he spoke. The most recent game I attended was the 2013 Homecoming game in which the Bears surprised the nationally ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Music blares. Students and alumni mingle around a collection of tents. Food and drink are consumed with the stadium’s tall western side on the horizon. “It’s more about a school thing than it is about a football thing,” said one MSU student. “We’re just here to support each other and we’re here to have fun.”
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The most popular options -- and two of the most exotic items -- are the barbecued nachos with pulled pork for $6 and the Polish sausage hot dogs for $5. Other selections include regular hot dogs for $4, foot-long hot dogs for $7, and jumbo soft pretzels for $3.
The stands serve Pepsi products ranging from $2-$4.50. All five concession stands in the stadium are busy hubs of activity throughout the game. Those who want to grab some grub in the concession stands in the lower concourse have the rare task of climbing stairs up to a platform. No outside food or drink is allowed into the stadium.
The view from the top is nice for what it is -- especially when the surrounding trees start to erupt into oranges, yellows and (fittingly) maroons. The stadium blends in without much effort to the surrounding academic buildings on its northern side. The playing field is a bit worn down, but the field is scheduled to be replaced following the 2013 season -- among other renovations that include the removal of the track and the replacement of the creaky wooden bleachers on the eastern side that are inhabited by MSU students and the school's band.
One nice aspect of the stadium is a lack of advertising, which equates to a clean and simple look. The only permanent ads can be found on the scoreboard near the southern end zone. As far as mascots go, Boomer the Bear is around, but is not a very integral part of the game.
The Missouri State campus is located only a couple of blocks from downtown Springfield and all of its amenities -- including a large number of bars and restaurants. The hub of activity can be found on South Avenue. One of the more popular sports bars in town, Bair's All-American Sports Grill, is located a short walk from the stadium at 631 S. Kimbrough Avenue. Ebbets Field is another popular sports bar destination located just north of the MSU campus on East Walnut Street.
As evidence by the crowd at BearFest Village, Missouri State fans love their tailgating. That same passion does not seem to translate into the actual games. Yes, fans do a good a job of wearing the school colors of maroon and white, but they appear to be fairly muted overall.
Case in point: At the game I attended, the team was greeted by a relatively modest applause heading into halftime -- in spite of the fact that the one-win home team had a 20-0 lead over a nationally ranked South Dakota State squad. Visiting fans are treated well here by often sitting in the lower bleacher seats -- as opposed to being put on the other side of the stadium with the band and student section.
The stadium has ample free parking nearby. The bathroom situation in the lower concourse on the main side is a bit bizarre. To use the restroom on the venue's southern end you have to go upstairs. On the plus side, you can have a field view and do your business in one of several urinals. Who needs a TV set when you see the real thing? I'm not sure how a handicapped fan would access that bathroom.
The stadium has a strange disconnect between the top section, the suite level, and bottom row. The entrance to the lower level nearly puts you on the field. These bleacher seats are very close and intimate seats -- and cost the same amount as their counterparts in the upper level.
They are definitely the best choice, given that the upper ones are considerably steeper, even if they do offer a great view of the surrounding (flat) landscape. Side note: The labeling of the sections could use some work. At the moment, it relies on the repetition of letters. For example, GGG sits on top of GG, which sits on top of G. That gets confusing.
On the negative side, it is difficult to move from the lower level to the suite and upper concourse levels. It's like an island encased in concrete. From the lower concourse, the only option to get back to the other two levels is to walk out of the gates on the side and go back into the stadium and ascend through a series of ramps. There needs to be a simpler way to go to and fro.
The most expensive single-game ticket is $20. Combine that with plenty of free parking and free programs and a Bears game is a very affordable form of family entertainment. BearFest Village is a great place to soak in the atmosphere beforehand. It, too, has no cover charge to enter the grounds.
One point is given for signs of Bears history on the poles around the top concourse. It's a nice touch that gives fans something to look at when roaming the upper grounds.
One point is awarded for the ability of being able to see the southern end zone from the urinals in the men's bathroom.
A half point is given for having free programs. Another half point is awarded for having good signage in the lower concourse -- even if the layout is less than ideal.
A Missouri State football game brings with it an affordable set of charms and quirks, some of which are more endearing than others. Although the venue is about to undergo a series of renovations, the one I'd like to see the most is the creation of series of passageways that connect the lower concourse, suite level and upper concourse in a clear and concise manner.
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3821 S Campbell Ave
Springfield, MO 65807
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