Eccles Coliseum – Southern Utah Thunderbirds
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Mountains, Thunder, and Football
At an elevation of 5,600 feet and nestled in the heart of Utah’s Color Country, you would be hard-pressed to find a football stadium with a more picturesque setting than Eccles Coliseum on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. The facility has been home to Thunderbird football since 1967.
The 8,500 seat stadium was renovated in 1997 and has since undergone several upgrades, the most recent coming in 2012 when the grass field was replaced with Hellas Matrix turf. Located on the extreme western edge of the campus and adjacent to Interstate 15, the Grecian-themed stadium is also home to SUU’s track & field teams and includes the Harris Center, the practice facility for the school’s nationally ranked gymnastics team.
The stadium is also used for many community events, the largest of which is the opening ceremonies for the Utah Summer Games. It also plays host to the Special Olympics and many high school track & field meets. The Olympic Torch passed through the stadium on its way to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics. A large memorial to the event sits at the south end of the stadium.
The Thunderbirds have enjoyed relative success over the years, but have been much more successful since head coach Ed Lamb joined the program in 2008. They won the Great West Conference championship in 2010 and have done well against conference teams since joining the Big Sky Conference in 2012. They earned their first FCS playoff berth in 2013, losing in the first round. If you want to see the Thunderbirds win at home your odds are decent as SUU has gone 18-11 on its home field since 2008 (through 2013). With a student body of around 7,000 and situated in a city of 25,000 people, the size of the stadium is proportionate to its audience. It’s a good place to catch some good college football action and what it lacks in size and variety, it makes up for in affordability.
Food & Beverage 3
The offerings at the concessions stands are average. They offer the standard fare you would expect – hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., but also offer things like Polish sausages, pulled pork sandwiches, and barbequed chicken legs. Everything is priced between $3.75-$4.75.
They also have popcorn and nachos for about $3. They serve Coke products from the fountain and have bottled water and hot chocolate available (this came in handy as the game I attended took place during a snow storm).
They offer a drink called “Thor’s Nectar,” named after the team’s mascot Thor, which is essentially a mixture of sprite and fruit punch. As this is a highly conservative area, there is no alcohol allowed or served in the stadium. Attendees may not bring outside food or drink into the venue. There is a concession stand just inside the northwest entrance that is built in as part of the stadium. There are also concession booths near the two southern entrances that are each basically a pair of 10′ x 10′ portable canopies.
The atmosphere is one of the best I’ve been to for several reasons. At the beginning of the football season the weather in most places is unbearably hot, but with late summer temperatures in the mid 80’s the first half of the season in Cedar City is optimal outdoor weather. Add the scenic red mountains that sit to the east and the view of the historic and beautiful campus in the foreground, and finding a nicer place to watch a game is hard to do. Late-season games can be subject to inclement weather as snow typically begins to fall between the end of October and the middle of November. There are no covered seats within the general admission area.
The two south entrances are wheelchair accessible while the west and north entrances require the climbing of stairs. Handicapped seating is available around the main concourse of the stadium as well as in section E (the furthest north section on the west side of the field.) The home side of the field is divided into two sections. The top half has chair back seating while the bottom half consists of metal bleachers. The south end of the home side has cement bleachers that extend beyond the end of the grandstands to the south end zone.
The student section is located in the middle section of the lower bleachers and is usually the most crowded part of the stadium. The visitors side is made up of eight rows of bleachers with handicapped seating at the top which is accessible from the main concourse. Because of the smaller size of the venue, fans can get a good view of the field from any seat.
A large scoreboard behind the north end zone provides game coverage as well as replays so you can see the action no matter where you are. There are suites available but the prices and availability are not listed on the SUU website or at the ticket window.
There is usually a pep band at each game except during bad weather. They assume the usual responsibilities, but do not perform a halftime show. That privilege falls upon the SUU Waukeenyans, a troop of dancing girls who perform various routines. Halftime activities include eating contests and fan spotlights where the PR staff single out a pair of fans and put them on the scoreboard before giving them a prize.There are also cheerleaders at each game performing stunts and shooting T-shirts into the crowd.
When I attended in late November the cold weather seemed to hamper their ability to get the crowd going. The Thunderbirds’ mascot Thor is also present but doesn’t do much and is rarely visible. The public address announcer is upbeat and does a good job of helping to give the crowd something to cheer about.
The stadium sits two block from the area of town known as “Hamburger Alley,” a busy street with many fast food chain restaurants. There is an IHOP and a Denny’s within walking distance, but if you want to eat at a nice restaurant you’re going to have to drive. A couple of miles to the south is the Providence Center where many chain eateries (Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc.) draw large crowds on weekends. About a mile to the east is historic Main Street which boasts several more dining options, many of which are unique to Cedar City. Should you choose to walk, the neighborhoods are clean and safe and will show you the small-town charm that exists here.
When you’re not at the game there’s plenty to see and do in Cedar City and the surrounding areas. This is a huge performing arts community that has several theatres and festivals including the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Neil Simon Festival. If you enjoy Shakespeare or other types of plays, you won’t have a problem finding something to do after the game.
If the bar is more your style, sadly your options are limited. Most of the chain restaurants have bars in them but there are only two “bars” in Cedar City. Mike’s Tavern is a small bar not far from campus. It’s pretty low-key and not too crowded so it’s easy to stop in for a drink or grab a burger. If you’re looking for more of a party, Toadz is just a few blocks away. It’s a popular weekend hot spot that features a sports bar and a restaurant offering everything from burgers to chicken to fish tacos.
The fans here are loyal, but not overbearing so visitors will always feel welcome. They are fairly knowledgeable of the rules of the game and will not hesitate to call out the refs if they disagree. As long as the team is doing well they stay pretty animated.
The stadium is easily accessible from Interstate 15 and is about two miles from the Cedar City Airport. There are parking lots on the east, west, and south sides of the venue and parking is free. The east and south lots enter onto the visitors side of the field. Restrooms are handicap accessible and are located near the southwest entrance and are kept nice and clean. There is no security check at the gate, but there are law enforcement personnel both on the field and throughout the concourse so attendees should feel safe. The games are broadcast on SUU’s radio station KSUU 91.1 FM. If you have online capabilities you can keep track of live game statistics at www.suu.statbroadcast.com.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets range from $7 – $18 which makes going to a game pretty affordable. To be honest, the $7 seats have just as good a view of the field as the $18 seats and are much closer to the action. The only difference is the $18 seats have backs and armrests. Groups of 15 or more can get a group discount. Overall I would say the price of admission and food is worth the experience, but I would have a hard time paying much more.
Gameday programs are available. Being a member of the local media I got mine for free, but with the quality of the publication and value added with discount coupons to local businesses I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one.
Booths near the two south entrances also sell SUU apparel. The prices are what you would expect from a college retailer.
Locals may want to consider signing their children up in the Thunderbird Kids Club. The cost is $15 for the first child and $10 for each additional child. This will allow them to attend all home games for half price.
I’ll add something here that may pertain to the neighborhood but encompasses a larger area. Cedar City is located within a few hours of five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Great Basin. If you’ve got a day or two to spend in the area these parks are a great way to spend your time. For just $25 you can get into all the parks for up to seven days and enjoy the natural beauty for which Utah is famous.
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