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  • Writer's pictureEric Moreno

Crusader Stadium – UMHB Crusaders


Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Crusader Stadium 905 University Drive Belton, TX 76513



Year Opened: 2013

Capacity: 9,118

 

Mary Hardin-Baylor Building a Dynasty at Crusader Stadium


Tucked away in the small Central Texas town of Belton is the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Chartered back in 1845 by the then Republic of Texas, the college was originally known as Baylor Female College, the women’s branch of Baylor University. The college became co-educational off and on over the years before permanently becoming so in 1971, and was renamed to its current name in 1978.


The school began its football program in 1997 and since that time, the Crusaders have not only had only one Head Coach during their existence, the venerable Pete Fredenburg, but they have dominated the competition over this stretch. The Crusaders have won 15 American Southwest Conference titles, the first in 2002, and have won two NCAA Division III National Championships, most recently in 2018. They have done the bulk of their recent winning from a gorgeous on-campus facility, Crusader Stadium.


Designed to look like a football palace from days gone by, Crusader Stadium blends in perfectly with its campus surroundings and feels right at home in a small town such as Belton.

Championship Banner, Photo by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey


Food & Beverage 3

In terms of concessions items, Crusader Stadium has all the staples and then some. There are four main concession areas, three on the home team side and one on the visitor side of the stadium. At each of these you can get hot dogs and pretzels ($3 each) or Slovacek Sausage Dogs – a personal favorite – and nachos ($4 each). You can also get a souvenir soda for $5 or bottled water and sports drinks for $3.


In the middle stand on the home side there is a little something special offered – Freezing Point Creamery, in nearby Temple, has set up shop and is offering two very special Mary Hardin-Baylor specific blends. First up is the neon purple Crunilla, a Mexican vanilla-flavored ice cream, while next up is Sader Gold, a bright yellow cotton candy flavored scoop. You can also get yourself a Crusader cup, which is a blend of the two and perfectly matches the home team’s color scheme; each of the scoops can be had for $4.50.


In the South end zone you can find a Chick-fil-A tent, which offers a pared-down menu of its signature items, as well as bottled sodas. Or, in the North end zone on each sideline there are additional tents that offer Ultimate Nachos (covered in pulled pork) and Cru Dogs (think of a tricked-out chili dog) for $5 each.


Atmosphere 4

One of the things that I was most impressed by on my most recent visit to Belton and Crusader Stadium was just how seamlessly the venue has been integrated into the campus. With is old-school red brick facade, hillside seating in each end zone, and a backdrop of the high glass windows and columns of the Bawcom Student Union behind the visiting team’s sidelines, Crusader Stadium looks like it has been there for centuries and it still looks gorgeous.


The sight lines of the stadium are great and visitors have great vantage points from every point, both in the lower as well as in the upper decks.


The Crusaders have also done a great job of highlighting their past successes, including the large sign under the scoreboard in the North end zone (the largest such video board in all of Division III) highlighting their recent National Championship and the retired number of former Crusader Jerrell Freeman, the only player from the school to make it to the NFL.


Neighborhood 3

Belton is the quintessential college town; everything around the campus is built and tailored to highlighting that. That being said, there are still a lot of things to see and do in the area either before or after a Crusader games.

If you’re into the outdoors Central Texas is a great spot for you, which includes fishing at Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. This man-made lake is a favorite of anglers in this part of Texas and is open year-round. Or, if you’re looking to experience the water in a different fashion, then nearby Summer Fun Water Park is just what you’re looking for; water slides, a lazy river, and pools are all part of the attraction.


In terms of food, when you come to this part of the state there really is only one true and just option: barbecue. Belton has a couple of great ones, which you should be sure to seek out on your visit. Both Schoepf’s BBQ and Backyard Bar-B-Q are local favorites that have earned devotees from across the state. If you’re looking for great examples of Texas-style barbecue, you can’t go wrong at either of these spots.


Fans 4

From 2016-2018 the Crusaders have appeared in three consecutive Division III National Championship games and won two of them. With this much sustained success, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine that the fans of Mary Hardin-Baylor come out in droves to games at Crusader Stadium.


The four main parking lots that parallel Crusader Stadium can be counted on to be full of fans tailgating, and will be decked out in the purple and gold of their team. You can also expect the stands and end zone to be similarly filled with loud, purple-clad fans.


I was particularly impressed with the large crowd in the student section – this is a key component of all college football games, in my opinion. To have a loud, rowdy student section automatically adds to the game-time experience, and the Crusaders student body do their football team proud.


Access 3

Belton is located right along Interstate 35 and is about halfway between Austin and Waco; it is about two hours from San Antonio, 45 minutes from Austin, and 40 minutes from Waco. Once you get to Belton, signage abounds leading you to the campus and to Crusader Stadium.


Parking is ample among the four lots fronting Crusader Stadium. Specific lots have been designated for tailgating and there is a reserved lot for those with parking passes. However, the open lots are free, but do tend to fill up fast.


There isn’t much in the way of public transportation in Belton, but ride sharing services are available if you’re inclined not to do your own driving to Crusaders games.


Return on Investment 4

Single-game tickets for Crusaders games start at $10 ($8 if you buy online ahead of time) for General Admission seating and $12 ($10 bought in advance) for Reserved seating. For as good as this team is, this is a real bargain.


When you take into account the free parking and really affordable cost for concessions items, you really can’t beat what you get at Crusader Stadium. This team has captured the attention and affection of the locals, and on the field they have the attention of the college football world. This would be a great introduction for new fans to the sport to get them hooked on all the good things about college football.


Extras 3

Mary Hardin-Baylor has all the great pageantry that accompanies college football – the Crusaders have their own marching band, dance team, cheerleaders, and mascot CRUnk the Crusader. All of these combine to make game day fun for all members of the family.


Final Thoughts

I loved my most recent visit to Crusader Stadium. I admit that I might be a little biased in that college football is my favorite sport and that I love any and all things Texas football. However, I don’t think I would be out of line to suggest that the Crusaders and Mary Hardin-Baylor have built something special in Belton. If you are looking for that great college town vibe from your sports, then Crusader Stadium has that in abundance; plan a visit when you can.



Follow Eric Moreno’s Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477. Visit Eric Moreno’s writer’s portfolio site at ericmoreno.contently.com.

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