Hanson Field – Western Illinois Leathernecks
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In 1903, Western Illinois fielded their first ever football team. The team’s mascot is a bulldog, but the team is nicknamed the Fighting Leathernecks. Western Illinois is the only public school in the United States to be granted permission to use Fighting Leathernecks, which is commonly associated with the United States Marine Corps.
The home of the Fighting Leathernecks has been Hanson Field since 1950. The venue currently has a capacity of 17,168. The stadium is named for former football head coach and athletic director, Rock Hanson, who was a member of the Marines. The Western Illinois Bulldog also takes its name from Hanson, and is usually referred to as Colonel Rock.
The field is surrounded by a track and a sidewalk surrounds the track, providing an opportunity to stand along the fence for a good view, but also having the effect of making the action on the field seem far away from the stands. The school competes in the Missouri Valley Conference, joining in 1985. Western Illinois has won five conference championships (1988, 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2002).
There aren’t many options on the concessions menu, but there is some meat. The ribeye sandwich ($5) is very good, and well worth the price. Other options include the butterfly pork chop sandwich ($4), grilled brat ($3), and grilled hot dog ($2). Pizza is available with pepperoni, sausage or plain cheese ($3 a slice). Popcorn and candy is also available ($2).
Coca-Cola is the soda provider. Bottled water and Powerade are also on hand ($2 per bottle). Hot chocolate is also available and very good on a cold night or autumn afternoon.
The atmosphere for Western Illinois football begins as you park your car and make your way through the tailgating. This is one destination where you definitely want to pack up the car and be ready to spend some quality time with purple and gold clad fans. You’ll find enough tailgaters to make you think you may be at an FBS-level football game.
Be sure to arrive at least an hour early to the stadium if you would like to see the marching band perform in front of the student union building on the southwest side of the stadium. This may also be a good meeting point if you’re not tailgating.
Once inside the stadium, consider taking a lap once around the track. In the northwest corner you’ll find the statue dedicated to former track & field coach, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Lee Calhoun. Calhoun won the 110m hurdles at the 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome) Summer Olympics.
The marching band plays a short show before the game and also at halftime. They also have some of the best seats for any marching band in the country, situated at the 50 yard line on the east stands, behind the visiting team’s bench. The student section is just one section over, helping to provide a loud and intimidating environment for the opponents.
Seating is almost entirely metal bleachers (and some wood bleachers), with the exception of one section beneath the press box on the west side stand (Section D). Here you’ll find purple chairbacks, although the leg room is less than average. If you have a bad back you may shoot for these seats, but long-legged fans should stick with the bleachers. The school does offer chair rentals if you want something sit on in the bleachers for just $5.
The stadium is dedicated to soldiers who fought in World War I and World War II, with the names of those from Western Illinois who died listed on a plaque on the southwest side of the stadium.
Macomb, Illinois is located just 41 miles from the Iowa border, about an hour and a half southwest of Peoria, Illinois. Hanson Field is located on the Western Illinois Campus, near the basketball arena, Waste Management Court at Western Hall. If it’s a nice day, consider taking the walk south of the stadium and taking a stroll through the Main Building, erected in 1899.
There is a small, but inviting downtown area, about a mile away where you can find some bars and restaurants. Aurelio’s serves good pizza and Italian food. I really liked Pag’s Pizza. It is a modest place, serving only pizza, pasta, and soda, but the thin crust pizza is very well done.
Chicks on the Square has four television screens if you want to stay up on what’s happening elsewhere in the sports world. They are famous for their “chicken lips,” which are essentially large chicken tenders served in a Buffalo-style sauce. They were pretty busy on my most recent visit, so be prepared for a possible wait here on gameday.
The student section is known as the Purple Haze and is located next to the marching band on the east side of the stadium. There are a few hard core fans among them, but overall it is an underwhelming congregation with many of the crew leaving at halftime during my most recent visit.
The alumni tend to sit on the west side of the stadium, behind the WIU bench. You will likely hear a few cowbells being rung in this section, and they tend to be very friendly, including to visiting fans. This group cares about their team, but also will not overwhelm you with the noise they are able to produce. The best fans in the house definitely are the band members, who cheer loudly and also contribute their musical interludes.
There is plenty of parking on the north side of the stadium, and it is free. There are attendants present to ask if you want a tailgate spot or regular spot. There is no charge regardless, it just depends on whether you plan to lay out a spread.
Inside the stadium, the concourse that encircles the track is roomy. In most cases, you will have to climb some stairs to reach your seat. If you need assistance, then the southwest gate would be your best entrance point.
Restrooms are large and clean, and can be found in the northeast and southeast corners of the stadium.
Return on Investment 4
General admission tickets will cost you just $10, and reserved chairbacks will cost you $15. There is a $5 increase for homecoming and family weekend. Parking is plentiful and free. Concessions are reasonably priced. A program will cost you $2. Overall, there is good value if you are attending a game at Western Illinois, and well worth the overall cost.
One extra point for the unique and deserved statue of track & field star Lee Calhoun. Statues always provide a unique experience when visiting a new stadium, and this one certainly adds something of interest.
One additional extra point for the unique Leatherneck nickname, combined with both a live bulldog mascot, and the more traditional bulldog mascot suit.
If you find yourself in the western part of central Illinois, or southeast Iowa or northeast Missouri, then consider making the trip to Macomb to seeing the Fighting Leathernecks on a Saturday. It may be an unspectacular gameday experience, but there is good value in a visit to this FCS stadium.
Hampton Inn Macomb
1639 E Jackson St
Macomb, IL 61455
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