Week 3: Union Red Hawks versus East Grand Rapids Pioneers
For the last two weeks, FNLE has covered games that included the Rockford Rams. Well this week we left the comfort of the OK Red and headed to Memorial Field to watch the East Grand Rapids (EGR) Pioneers host the Union Red Hawks. Even though this was a non-conference game and one with not much history, our expectations were high as we headed to the home of the five-time Division III state champions.
We arrived at Memorial Field an hour prior to kickoff and were able to park right next to the stadium. This took us by surprise—how were we able to park so close to the stadium this close to kickoff? Normally parking in the street is not the most ideal situation for people. However, looking around at the beautiful houses that surround the stadium, we felt pretty secure in our parking selection. While chatting with the Pioneer fans, we learned that, with the exception of two small school lots, the only available parking for games is street parking.
Heading in to the game, we anticipated a lot of pre-game energy—maybe some face painting, signs to fire up the team, at the very least cheerleaders getting the fans ready to push their team toward a sixth consecutive state championship. Instead, we were greeted with, well, nothing. Memorial Stadium is beautiful! It sits across the street from Reeds Lake, which can be seen from the home side bleachers. The stadium seats approximately 5,000 people and 30 minutes prior to kickoff there were still a plenty of seats available, which only further proved that this was not a rivalry game by any stretch of the imagination. The field sports the artificial multi-toned turf that we have grown accustomed to seeing at the “Ted.” Unlike the “Ted,” there is only one scoreboard with no play clocks to be found. The field is recessed—surrounded by brick and a two-level press box, giving the stadium a collegiate feel.
As we walked around the stadium to build up our appetites, we ventured inside a small enclosed shed that acted as a bookstore, selling all kinds of EGR gear—great idea for fundraising! The main concession stand is near the primary entrance and has a limited selection of food, but what they lacked in selection they more than made up for in taste. It was at the main concession that we purchased a rib sandwich that puts the McDonald’s McRib, which Drew and I love, to shame. If the primary concession did not have anything that would satisfy your taste buds, the EGR boosters have a tent set up where you can purchase a grilled hamburger or hot dog. After eating our fabulous rib sandwiches, we took part in another first for us at a high school venue, a root beer float. That’s right, folks, they had a tent where you could purchase a root beer float, and on this hot evening, it was a very pleasant surprise.
With the game about to start we headed to the sidelines to watch the Pioneers take the field. After the National Anthem, the band formed a tunnel and played the school fight song while the players ran through and out onto the field. One feature that we really found intriguing was that once the band was finished with pre-game they headed into the bleachers where they sat next to the student section.
Speaking of the student section, we have to tip our hats to the EGR students. Even though they did not have cheerleaders to urge them on, the students took it upon themselves to fire up the fans with cheers, chants, and a level of energy that we have yet to see at any of the other games we have covered. Each week the students choose a different theme; this week, it was neon. Each student was decked out in some of the loudest and most vibrant clothing you could have imagined.
After a very long first half for the Union Red Hawks, the Pioneer band took the field to perform their halftime show. Fans remained in their seats as the band put on a performance that was well orchestrated, full of organized movements, and played with such intensity and volume that the music surely filled the neighborhood surrounding the field. Great job, Pioneer band.
Even though this game quickly turned into a lopsided affair, the EGR students, band and fans treated every play as if the game were on the line. This was our first trip to Memorial Stadium and, with the exception of the lack of pre-game activities and parking, it did not disappoint. It is clear to see that this community is proud of their team and will be right behind them as they make their run toward a sixth state title.
Our Rating: 7.6: Parking 4: Facilities 9: Pre-Game* 6; Concessions* 8; Half-time Show 8; Student Body* 10; Atmosphere 7;
*Indicates these sections were double rated.
Next week we will be traveling to the home of the Grand Rapids Christian Eagles as they take on Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. For any comments or questions, please feel free to follow Drew and Dave on Twitter @FNLExperience.