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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Ernest W. Spangler Stadium – Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs

Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Ernest W. Spangler Stadium 150 Stadium Drive Boiling Springs, NC 28152

Year Opened: 1966

Capacity: 8,500


Ernest W. Spangler Stadium - Gardner-Webb University Runnin’ Bulldogs

Originally built in 1966, Earnest W. Spangler Stadium serves as the home of both the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs football and women's lacrosse teams.

The playing surface at Spangler Stadium is named in honor of Coach Norman Harris who is considered one of the founding fathers of Gardner-Webb athletics. The stadium was upgraded in 2014 with the installation of sport turf and again in 2020, when a video board was installed to enhance the overall fan experience.

Members of the newly created Big South – Ohio Valley Conference football partnership, Gardner-Webb has started to turn the corner as a program; the Runnin’ Bulldogs won the 2022 Big South Conference football championship in their final season playing exclusively as an independent conference.

Food and Beverage 4

Food and drink options are pretty much in line with what would be found at most stadiums. At traditional concessions stands fans can get hot dogs or nachos as primary choices. Snacks include a full selection of candy, peanuts, pretzels, chips, and popcorn. Beverage choices include Pepsi products, Gatorade, and bottled water. Beer and other alcohol options are not sold at Spangler Stadium.

Combo meals are possibly the best option, where fans can get hot dogs or nachos with chips and a beverage for $9 or less. This gives fans the most bang for their buck, as separately these would cost $11.

If looking for something more than the concessions stand basics, the “‘Sup Dawg” food truck located at the south end of the stadium serves a bit higher quality menu featuring quarter-pound hot dogs, burgers, and cheesesteaks, all of which can be made a combo for between $10 to $13. The extra cost is definitely worth it.

Atmosphere 3

Spangler Stadium is situated toward the back of Gardner-Webb's campus with much of the school’s other athletic facilities. Except for the home side of the stadium where the press box and premium areas are, there is not much of a stadium structure to speak of. The stadium perimeter is mostly iron fencing with a couple of smaller brick structures, one being the Henderson Family Gate, a relatively small brick structure with ticket windows on both sides. This gate serves as the primary and most convenient entry point for fans.

Seating is made up of two separate sections on each side of the field. The visiting stands are solely bleacher seating and run between the 15-yard lines, whereas the home bleachers are divided into upper and lower sections by a spacious walkway. The lower-level seating mostly consists of the Marching Bulldogs section, along with student seating at midfield, while the upper-level seats have three different options: bleacher benches without backs at both ends, abutted by a section of bleacher seats with backs, and a midfield section of stadium chairback seats. Shade is tough to come by, so the trees along the grassy hill in the southeastern corner of the stadium are a popular location on sunny days.

The Marching Bulldogs play a significant role in creating a classic college football atmosphere that goes a long way in setting the tone for the experience.

Neighborhood 3

Boiling Springs is a small, rural town in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains.

Main Street in Boiling Springs runs directly through the middle of town with a combination of recognizable chain restaurants and a handful of locally owned establishments. Campus Pizzaria, Snack Shop Family Restaurant, and Italian Garden are closely located just off the northeast corner of campus.

There are not a lot of entertainment options for visitors to Boiling Springs, but those who might enjoy getting out into nature and looking to make a day of a trip to the area might enjoy exploring the nearby Broad River Greenway, especially during the fall when the foliage is particularly impressive.

Fans looking for more options for restaurants, lodging, and entertainment might want to check out neighboring Shelby which is less than 10 miles away.

Fans 4

Runnin’ Bulldog fans are relatively active throughout the game. Typical attendance numbers run from 4,000 to 5,000. One of the drawbacks of the overall fan experience here, though, is how spread out the conference is across the country; it impacts the number of visiting fans in attendance. The Gardner-Webb fans do their part in filling the bleachers, but the visiting side of the stadium does tend to be a bit sparse.

The general Gardner-Webb fan base is actively engaged in the game, but typically is more reactive to the action on the field. The student section and marching band do an excellent job at staying involved throughout the game and get loud without much encouragement to do so. The student section remains on their feet practically the entire game – their enthusiasm goes a long way in adding to the overall experience.

Access 4

Boiling Springs is in the rural foothills of the southwestern mountains of North Carolina, an hour west of Charlotte. Despite Boiling Springs being off the beaten path, it is only about 20 minutes off Interstate-85.

Stadium Drive is the primary entry point to the Gardner-Webb athletic facilities. Most of the parking is in the lots just east of the stadium, all within a short walk. There are multiple entrances along the visiting side of the field, with the most popular being the previously mentioned Henderson Family gate that opens to a walkway that stretches to the stands on both sides of the field. While the walkway does not completely pass around the field, it does allow fans to move between the two sides of the stadium.

A concourse runs under the main bleachers – while it is not drastically narrow, concessions lines can back up there, making traversing the area somewhat of a challenge.

Return on Investment 3

Gardner-Webb football tickets have a price point for just about everyone. Tickets start at $25 for general admission, which is one of the higher price points in the conference. Fans are going to pay $10 for parking, so that is another expense to account for. Fans are looking at a minimum $35 investment for a Runnin’ Bulldogs game. It is not that this is overpriced for college football, it is just a touch high when comparing it to the rest of the conference.

Extras 3

The walkway leading to the home stands honors four legendary members of Gardner-Webb football; Coach Norman Harris, Richard Grissom, Chip Stuart, and Darrell Middleton are recognized for their accomplishments with individual brick monuments, honoring four of the most impactful players in Gardner-Webb football history.

Gardner-Webb’s live mascot, Bo the bulldog, appears during the pre-game festivities and is available for fans to get photos with.

The concourse below the home stands houses an apparel shop offering fans several t-shirts, hats, and other Gardner-Webb gear.

Final Thoughts

Spangler Stadium offers a solid overall fan experience for those looking to enjoy a small college football atmosphere. The stadium itself is fairly basic, but the fans are enthusiastic and the Marching Bulldogs provide a great soundtrack for the game. The food and beverage options are decent, and the area is charming.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs have struggled on the gridiron in recent years, but a coaching change following the 2019 season has helped turn the program around to the point where Gardner-Webb is now one of the top football programs in the Big South – Ohio Valley Conference. This change in leadership has helped in improving the on-field product, in turn improving the overall football experience.

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