If you ask most sports fans about Davidson College, the first thing that they will likely mention is the Wildcats' run to the Elite Eight in the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Davidson guard Stephen Curry captured the imagination of basketball fans everywhere, as Bob McKillop's club defeated Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before falling just two points short of a Final Four trip in a loss to Kansas. Though this is the main item for which the casual sports fan knows this institution, there is much more to this prestigious area just north of Charlotte.
The Wildcats are a member of the FCS Pioneer Football League, but they have also appeared in a major bowl game. Davidson represented the Southern Conference in the 1969 Tangerine Bowl (now the Capital One Bowl) in Orlando, falling 56-33 to Toledo. The school will celebrate the 90th anniversary of their home, Richardson Stadium, in 2013. The college campus on which it rests was founded in 1837. This is a campus and a stadium, however, that – for the most part – does not show its age.
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There is one main point from which to buy concessions within the stadium, as there is an area just outside the end zone that sells souvenirs and concessions. The Davidson Lions Club operates the main stand, and there is not a large variety of offerings. The team sells hot dogs, popcorn, pizza, nachos (unfortunately spelled "nachoes") and assorted candy items (Reese's cups and the like). Prices are fair, for the most part, with everything either $2 or $2.50. The $5 pizza is the lone exception to that rule. Coca-Cola is the bottler for the campus, with bottled sodas and water about average at $2.50. Hot chocolate and coffee are also available for the rare cool North Carolina afternoons.
Subway and Ben & Jerry's also have separate carts just to the side of the concession stand. If you have a craving for a sandwich or some ice cream, these are some options that provide a bit of variety without breaking the bank. There are any number of tailgates going on outside the stadium before the game starts, however, so it might be a good idea to stop by and see if you can make some friends and share their food.
One of the best things about football in the southeastern United States is the campus atmosphere, and Davidson gets it right. The school has a fan tailgate area set up just outside the main entrance to the stadium, featuring live music, toys for kids and other fun activities. The area opens three hours prior to kickoff, allowing fans to mingle, play games and get plenty of refreshments prior to heading to their seats. The tailgating is not limited to this area, though, as there are a number of fans that also tailgate in the Baker Sports Complex parking area. This is the main parking area that feeds the stadium, so you have a reasonably good chance of getting in on a tailgate before you hit the main gate. There is also a park (Hobart Park) just outside of the stadium gate, and some people were grilling there as I walked by.
Davidson is a reasonably small school, and though they have a band on campus, the band does not appear at football games. The school plays music on the public address system to fill some of the voids, but hearing a recording of the fight song being played instead of a live performance by the band is a bit jarring. There is a wildcat mascot, Mr. Wildcat, who makes an appearance at the half and says hello to some of the kids. The lone scoreboard is in the south end of the stadium, and there are no videos played on the board. There is also a red font on the board that, combined with the size of the scoreboard, can make things a bit tough to read, depending on your location.
The fixed seating is all on one side of the stadium, leading to the same view for most fans. The Knobloch Campus Center is situated to the left (north) of the seating bowl, with Belk Arena (the home of Davidson basketball) somewhat visible beyond the visiting bench. Fans can be seen congregating on Knobloch's patio, as there is standing and seating room overlooking the field. The synthetic turf field is surrounded by the Irwin Belk Track. There are a number of colleges and universities across the Carolinas with tracks bearing Belk's name, including North Carolina A&T, Winthrop, Catawba and Lenoir-Rhyne.
The school is in the vicinity of Davidson's downtown area, with a number of shops, restaurants and college stores. The area is very lively on game days, with students and fans milling around. Any trip to Davidson requires a stop at the Soda Shop. This Davidson icon has been in existence since 1951, and features sandwiches, appetizers and other "southern" fare. Don't plan on a late- night trip, though, as they close at 8:00. Make sure to bring cash, too, as they only take cash or local checks. There are local establishments for every taste, including Brickhouse Tavern, Flatiron on Main and local mini-chain Toast Cafe.
If you wish to venture away from Davidson, though, there are plenty of options available for you. There is waterfront dining just minutes away on beautiful Lake Norman, along with boating, water-skiing and other similar activities. Davidson is also essentially in north Charlotte, with suburbs Cornelius, Huntersville and Mooresville surrounding the city. There is a nice selection of national chains and local shops in all of these towns, and many NASCAR race teams have their operations nearby.
This score is by no means a slight of the fans who attended on the same day I visited Richardson Stadium. Many of the fans I encountered were friendly, smart and involved. Most of those who hung around until the end of the game were still cheering on their homestanding Wildcats, despite the number on the scoreboard not being what they had hoped. The visiting Dayton Flyers were well-represented, with a number of family members and other fans making the rather long trip to southern North Carolina. Most fans of both teams were huddled near the top of the stands or on the side obscured by the press box, enjoying the few areas of shade offered in the seating bowl.
The troublesome aspect of the fan base at Davidson was that there just weren't many of them to be found. The game I attended was Davidson's homecoming, and the announced attendance (2,216) was less than half of the facility's seating capacity. There were quite a few fans who streamed out at the half after the announcement of the Homecoming Court. Sure, their team was trailing 31-0 at the half, but it was a gorgeous fall day, with temperatures in the mid-80s and bright sunshine. This is a real shame, considering how much support Davidson's basketball team receives. There were also a number of onlookers from the aforementioned Knobloch Campus Center patio, which is technically outside the stadium and does not count toward the attendance numbers.
Davidson is located just minutes from North Carolina's Interstate 77. This allows for relatively easy access to the campus from points to the north and south. Charlotte International Airport is approximately a half-hour to the south, and flight options are obviously quite plentiful, should you choose this option to attend a Davidson game. Bus service is available through Charlotte's CATS service, but is a bit convoluted and time-consuming. This trip can take up to three hours with transfers and other delays.
Parking is free and plentiful at the Baker Sports Complex on the Davidson campus. This lot is located on Concord Road, just off Davidson's Main Street (North Carolina Highway 115). There is a short walk up the hill from the lot to the stadium, and a short drive back to I-77 after the game.
Inside the stadium, the restrooms are just off the main stadium entrance. They are not the largest facilities, by any stretch, but they were reasonably clean and well-kept. A trip to the restroom is likely the only thing that will keep you away from being able to view the action taking place on the field, as the concession area is located on the track near the field. The lines seem to move at a decent pace, but the ability to continue watching the game makes the wait a bit easier to tolerate. Once you leave, the stadium is in the center of the campus, so there are plenty of places to go for a walk after the game.
Davidson offers a pretty reasonable value for its level, with adult tickets priced at $12. These tickets allow you to sit anywhere in the seating bowl. The seats are all metal bleachers, so it might be recommended to bring a stadium seat or a cushion. Free parking adds to the value the college offers, allowing you to buy a ticket, a hot dog, a soda and a program for under $20. Youth tickets are $6, so you can get an even better deal than that for the kids.
There are occasional deals offered by the college that also help make things a little easier on your wallet. One such deal is the Take a Kid to a Game promotion offered by the school for one game each year. This deal enables a paying adult fan to bring in a child for free.
There is a Davidson College store on Main Street just off the campus, but there is no need to leave the stadium to get your gear. The school operates a souvenir stand beside the concession area. If you want to show your Davidson school spirit, you'll only need to take a few steps to do so. You might even be fortunate enough to catch a t-shirt from Mr. Wildcat or the Davidson cheerleaders, as they throw them into the stands on separate occasions.
The day I attended Richardson Stadium was Military Appreciation Day, which is a wonderful touch. The school saluted the troops throughout the day. The only downfall of this salute was that the military anthems played over the public address system during the half to honor those who have served were barely audible at field level. There were a few concerns with the system's levels being too high or too low throughout the day, so this may benefit from some tweaking.
Though it is not inside the stadium, there is a tree swing just outside. I saw a father gently pushing his son on the swing after the game, and this was a really nice moment. The swing appears to be available for use by anyone, and is in a very central part of campus. Despite its location, the area is quiet and relaxing. This is a good way to spend five or ten minutes before or after a game, if you get a chance.
Richardson Stadium is one of the centerpieces of a beautiful campus. The college has two buildings (Eumenean Hall and Philanthropic Hall) on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings were constructed in 1849 and 1850, respectively. This is truly a campus where the past and the future surround you at every turn.
It is upsetting that the Wildcats have experienced problems getting fans in the seats. Their facility, despite its age, has plenty to offer. Davidson plays in a quality FCS-level league and offers a solid product at a decent value. One would certainly hope that more fans find their way to this stadium to give it a look.
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Davidson, NC 28036
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Davidson, NC 28036
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