Ronnie G. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium – Western Carolina Catamounts
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Mountain Cats With Bats
Western Carolina University is a member of the North Carolina University System. It is located in the small town of Cullowhee, NC (population 9,428), which is located 52 miles west of Asheville, NC in the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains. WCU was founded in 1889 and has an enrollment of 10,382 students on a lovely 600-acre campus. The main majors at the school are Applied Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Allied Professions
WCU is a member of the Southern Conference, which includes Furman University, Mercer University, Samford University, The Citadel, VMI, Wofford and UNC Greensboro. All of the Western Carolina sports teams are known as the Catamounts, a mountain cat indigenous to the surrounding area. The WCU baseball program has a great history of success, with 21 Southern Conference championships and 11 NCAA tournament appearances. It has won nearly 70 percent of its games at home all-time.
The home field for the Catamounts baseball team is Ronnie Childress Field at Hennon Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 1,500. Although it was built in 1978, Hennon Stadium has gone through numerous renovations (1990, 1991, 2002, 2003 and 2009). The newer additions to the stadium include seat back chairs, a new scoreboard and several enhancements to the field itself. Dimensions of the field are 325 feet down the lines and 390 to dead center. One of the unique features is the Purple Monster in left field, which is 20 feet tall and 50 feet long.
Food & Beverage 5
The concession stand at WCU offers a wide variety of foods at very reasonable prices. These include a barbecue sandwich for $4; hot dog, nachos or a pizza slice for $3; pretzels and Cracker Jacks for $2 and sodas for $3. Special kudos also go to the concessions operators for offering sweet tea (a “must-have” when dining in the South) and for the construction of a brick dining patio adjacent to the concession stand. The patio also includes a grill for tailgaters who bring their own goodies.
People who live, work or go to school in the area have chosen it because they love the great outdoors. The atmosphere at WCU ballgames reflects this. It is a laid back atmosphere, where fans are not going to allow a little “brisk” weather deter them from attending the game. Visitors to ballgames are very welcome, as the school and its fans are used to the tourists who often travel the back roads enjoying the natural beauty of the area, and decide to stop off in Cullowhee to shop, visit the Mountain Heritage Center and have a bite to eat.
The baseball complex is on the WCU campus, which is in a valley nestled between the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. You will not find a more beautiful backdrop to a baseball game than these mountains, especially as the sun sets. The town of Cullowhee sits across NC Hwy 107 from the campus. There is no downtown to speak of, as a massive flood in 1940 wiped out the business district along the Tuckaseegee River. As a result, many businesses are strung out along higher ground bordering Hwy 107. There are a few restaurants located in Cullowhee proper, including Cullowings and the Cullowhee Cafe. There are no hotels in Cullowhee, but there is a wide selection to choose from in Sylva, which is just five miles up the road. Hotel brands in Sylva include Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn, Best Western and Quality Inn.
The students at WCU and local residents make up a vast majority of the fans attending games at Hennon Stadium, as it is the only game in town. The isolated nature of both WCU and the town of Cullowhee means that you are in an “everybody knows everybody” situation. However, visitors are warmly received, and the locals love to share their vast knowledge of the Catamounts’ baseball heritage. Attendance at the games is excellent, and the stands are usually filled with students decked out in gold and purple, the Catamounts’ colors. Probably the most heated rivalry comes when Appalachian State University comes to town. The similarity of the schools’ mountain locations, small towns surrounding them and western North Carolina base means that many WCU and ASU students went to high school together. It is a friendly rivalry, though, with no bad feelings after the game.
Western Carolina University is definitely in an isolated area, not located near any major interstates or airports. The nearest major city and airport is in Asheville, located 52 miles to the northeast. When I say 52 miles, I mean 52 mountain miles, which means sharp curves, steep inclines and slow speed limits. I would allow at least 2.5 hours to navigate a 50-mile distance. You also need to be very wary of sudden weather changes, depending on the elevation, especially in the early spring. (It was 25 degrees on the day of this review.) It is not unusual to experience very temperate conditions in Cullowhee, which is located in a valley, and have to drive through snow to get there. Those who are not familiar with the roads in the area may want to choose to travel in daylight hours, as there are few towns or services along the route. There is a good side to this remoteness; you will be treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for Catamount ball games run from $10 for field level chairback seats to $5 for general admission seats. I would avoid using the on-line ticket service utilized by WCU, as it is decidedly not user friendly and adds a service fee. Just buy your tickets at the park. The parking is free, and concession stand prices are extremely reasonable. The hotels in the Cullowhee/Sylva area range in the $70-$90 range. The surrounding scenery alone makes it well worth your while to make the trip to Cullowhee for a ball game.
There are a number of interesting extras related to Western Carolina University and its surroundings. The Mountain Heritage Center in the Robinson Administration Building commemorates the Appalachian region’s rich natural and cultural heritage through exhibits, demonstrations and films. For those who enjoy Mother Nature, you are in the midst of both the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Harrah’s Cherokee Resort and Casino is located just 10 miles north of Cullowhee, for those who want to splurge on gambling, entertainment and resort level accommodations before or after the game.
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Jackson County Historic Courthouse
Sylva, NC 28779
Jackson County Public Library
Sylva, NC 28779
Holiday Inn Express Sylva
26 Rufus Robinson Rd
Sylva, NC 28779
The University Inn
563 N Country Club Dr
Cullowhee, NC 28723
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Ronnie G. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium
Cullowhee, NC 28723
Year Opened: 1978