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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
It is no great revelation that college campuses are great sources of history. We all know about the athletic and academic achievements of our favorite universities. Even with all the history we know, there is still so much we have yet to learn.
Catawba College is one of these great sources of history. The college was founded in 1851 — though not in its current location. Its origin rests approximately 50 miles to the west in the North Carolina town of Newton. Operations ceased in Newton in 1923, when the campus there was closed, only to reopen in Salisbury in 1925. That year also saw the construction of Shuford Stadium, the on-campus football stadium at Catawba. Though several changes have been made since its construction, the facility still stands in its original location.
Catawba is a current member of the South Atlantic Conference of NCAA Division II, but they have two bowl appearances under their belt. The Indians made two appearances in the Tangerine Bowl, defeating Maryville 31-0 in 1947, and Marshall 7-0 in 1948. Don’t let the age of Shuford Stadium or the years of those two bowl appearances fool you: This is a stadium (and program) that is still in great shape.
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".
There are no real gourmet offerings at Shuford Stadium, but this is certainly not a concern to Catawba football fans. The team sells Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($3.50, which is a reasonable deal), hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn as the main hot items from three points-of-sale. There are two points-of-sale on the home side of the concourse, with the other just inside the entry gate on the visiting side of the stadium. Snickers, M&Ms, Skittles, Air Heads, and Blow Pops are available to satisfy your sweet tooth. Pepsi is the bottler serving the stadium, with 16-ounce bottled sodas (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and water) selling for $2.
Another item with roots in Salisbury can be purchased at Catawba football games. The cherry-flavored soda Cheerwine was "accidentally" discovered by Salisbury resident L.D. Peeler in 1917, and it remains a favorite across the Carolinas nearly a century later. Cheerwine is among the soda selections at Shuford Stadium, so if you have not tried a Cheerwine, you can enjoy a cold one while watching the Indians.
The stadium is in an athletic complex near the rear of the campus, but many of the historic buildings nearby are visible from a lot of the seating area. This provides a unique combination of feeling as though you are in a secluded area, but still part of the campus at-large. The gymnasium, baseball field, tennis courts, and other athletic facilities are all adjacent to the stadium or nearby.
The Catawba band (called the PRIDE) plays from the visiting bleachers. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is obviously bad because the band is not among the home fans and students, but the good part is that there is no room for the band on the home side. The students and Catawba fans fill up the home stands - and then some - leaving the band to play from across the field. The band is very talented despite its size, and though there was a considerable lightning delay on the night I attended, causing the band to leave early, it is also very popular with the fans. As the team's mascot is the Indians - they were one of the few to survive the NCAA's attempts to shut down teams with similar nicknames and kept the name through the blessing of the local tribe. Because of this Native American link, the "Seminole War Chant" (made famous by Florida State and the Atlanta Braves) is a favorite go-to song for the band.
The seating is essentially all bleachers with chairbacks. As bleachers go, they are reasonably comfortable. Should you tire of the bleacher seats, though, there are open areas behind each end zone with a grassy berm area that is quite popular with the students and other fans. Though there are roped-off areas close to the end zone on both sides, this option affords a tremendous view of the action from field level. It might even be preferable to choose this option, assuming you don't mind standing or sitting in the grass the entire game.
Catawba is in what is essentially a residential area in Salisbury, meaning there is very little actually around the campus in terms of nightlife or food and drink. Downtown Salisbury is a couple of miles away, with North Carolina's Interstate 85 and Jake Alexander Boulevard (U.S. Route 601) even further away. There are quite a few choices within five minutes or so of the campus, with Castaways, College Bar-B-Que, DJ's, Osaka Japanese Cuisine, and Romano's (among others) all under a mile away.
Salisbury's downtown is very walkable, with a number of storefronts, restaurants, and other things to see and do, and the Salisbury exits off I-85 (exits 74, 75, and 76) all have the requisite shopping centers, big box stores, and other entertainment options. While this is all worth seeing, it is also strongly recommended to take a walk through Catawba's campus. Though the campus shows its age in places, the walk is very peaceful and scenic. Salisbury is loaded with historic buildings, and the Catawba campus is no different.
Shuford Stadium may only seat 4,000 (with berm room for about 1,000 more), but you would never know that if you simply closed your eyes at a game and listened to the people in the stands. This place is LOUD, and they make no attempt to hide the noise. There was one key third down on which the fans started to stomp their feet on the bleachers, and it sounded as though a train was coming right through the center of the field. The fans clearly love their home team, and even the almost two-hour lightning delay that took place on the night I attended could not deter this group.
Fans at Catawba really know how to tailgate for a school their size, as well. There is a large tailgating section just outside the gate on the visiting side, featuring fans throwing footballs, food as far as the eye can see, and people talking to each other about school, church, family, and life. This courtyard area remains lively until kickoff, and the excitement travels a few yards inside the stadium. If you love rowdy fans, especially those who will greet you with a smile, this is your place.
Catawba, as mentioned, is in Salisbury, North Carolina. The college's location places it about 45 minutes northeast of Charlotte and 45 minutes southwest of Greensboro. Both cities feature international airports, and both link to Salisbury via I-85. If you choose to travel from out of town, it is probably best to fly into one of these cities. There are a number of chain hotels all over Salisbury, but they are all at least three miles away from the campus near the interstate.
Parking is a bit of a hassle for Catawba games. There are several lots near the stadium, but they quickly fill up with fans, leaving those driving to the game frantically searching for a spot even an hour and a half or two hours away from the game. I parked in a faculty lot (on the aptly-named Faculty Staff Drive) across from the admissions office. The parking was free, as it is throughout the campus, but be careful where you park. This campus, as with most, has towing restrictions in several lots. Several of the lots are also a considerable walk from the stadium. The walk from the lot in which I parked was just under 15 minutes. I was, however, greeted by an extremely friendly police officer upon walking into the gate, and she led me to the gate I needed to access while keeping a light conversation.
Once inside the stadium, the concourse circles around the stadium; however, there are occasional "detours" along the concourse. The concourse veers around the back of the seating areas on either side, then onto the track in either end zone. The concession areas on both sides of the field are entirely blocked from the field of play, with the home concessions under the seating bowl and the visiting concessions behind the bleachers. As such, if you get hungry, it might be best to eat before the game or during a break in the action. Be careful when going to get these items, though, as the walkways in the bleachers are very narrow and can cause bottlenecks.
The restrooms are also along these concourses, and they, too, are blocked from view of the field. The facilities are not the most glamorous in the world, but they are clean and ably equipped to handle the demand placed on them. I saw only minor delays in both the bathrooms and concessions during even the busiest time on the night I attended, so there should be little concern in missing much of the action.
In the days of $75 tickets to see sporting events, Catawba football is truly an outstanding value. The most expensive seat in the house can be had for $15, and if even that is too much for you, $10 will buy a general admission ticket. Have no fear about not being able to see the action when buying that general admission seat, either, as there is ample standing room within yards of the action if you tire of the bleachers. There are plenty of friendly fans and families no matter where you sit or stand.
As mentioned in the Access portion, parking is free, though there may be a bit of a walk involved. When you consider that you can get a general admission ticket, a hot dog, and a soda for under $15, the value is virtually impossible to beat at any level of collegiate football. Even if you add a program for $2, this still only sets you back $16.50 per person.
There are a number of unique and historic items inside Shuford Stadium, and a lot of these make for great extras on your trip to Catawba. As mentioned above, the school's nickname is the Indians, and there is a totem pole in the end zone closest to Catawba's locker room facilities. This totem pole is viewed by some as a symbol of luck and tradition, and it looms over the field just to the right of the upright.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower made an appearance at Shuford Stadium on April 16, 1953, on the occasion of Rowan County's bicentennial celebration. There is a plaque on the home side of the concourse commemorating the visit, and it states, in part: "At this site, within the original Shuford Stadium, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, brought greetings to Rowan County. His visit was the highlight of Rowan County's bicentennial anniversary celebration. It marked the first visit to Catawba College by a President of the United States."
If you look carefully between the two concession stands on the home concourse, you will see a bell. This bell was used on the original Newton campus, and it had several uses there after being commissioned for the college over 150 years ago. A plaque accompanies the bell, explaining its story to fans. It was unfortunately used as a resting place for a half-eaten brownie for part of the night I attended, but it is a tremendous way to tie together the history of the "old" and "new" iterations of Catawba College. Just behind this bell is a brick memorial to three individuals who played key roles in Catawba's history: James Hurley, Gordon Kirkland, and Irwin Belk. The press box, playing surface, and track, respectively, bear the names of these individuals.
The college sets up a souvenir area just across from the concession stands on the home concourse. There are t-shirts, hats, and numerous other logo items available at reasonable prices. I saw a lot of fans wearing Catawba gear, with several others checking out the stand each time I walked by.
Catawba also has a very good radio broadcast team, and their games can be heard over 1280 WSAT-AM. The games can also be streamed live online for those fans who want to follow the Indians from miles away. So, whether you are three minutes or three time zones from the action, you can easily keep up with Catawba football.
The thought of visiting a football stadium and a museum in the same day may sound a bit odd to some, but a trip to Shuford Stadium allows you to do both. The facility is in unbelievable condition for a stadium that is approaching its 90th birthday, with plenty of seating, a modern area for suites and press, and a well-manicured playing surface. Most fans prefer to visit FBS or FCS facilities, but if a trip to see a Division-II team is in the offing for you, Shuford Stadium is a must-see destination for sports fans and history buffs alike.
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