The Stadiums of North Carolina: Kenan Memorial Stadium

Andrew Salmon
Sports Editor

The truth is, every UNCG fan has a secondary school for football season. That’s the cold reality of going to a school that refuses to fund a football team—and that’s fine. It is what it is. 

That being said, I find myself on something of an island every September. I was born and raised a Tar Heel fan, but my childhood obsession is now a passive interest at best, given their status as the biggest kid on the block. Football is something of an exception, but still, it’s UNC. I go to UNCG. They sign recruits we’d love to see in Blue and Gold. Come on.

So I’m going to do something a little different this year: I’ll be traveling to some of the notable college football stadiums in North Carolina then sharing my experiences with you. Enter Saturday night. Miami at UNC. Mack Brown’s first home game at UNC since 1997 and the first sellout at Kenan in God knows how long.

Speaking of which, you may have heard some NC State fans refer to the stadium as “Sleepy Kenan” due to low attendance in past years. The moniker was not unearned—seriously, there usually would have been more fans for the visitors in Carolina’s disastrous 2018 campaign that went 2-9.

But with the return of Brown came major renovations at Sleepy Kenan. The grass field was replaced with turf; hedges around the field were removed and sidelines were extended; the bleachers were scrapped and replaced with individual seats, which reduced the stadium’s capacity by over 10,000 but greatly improved fan comfort. Anyone who’s spent three hours on a metal bench crammed next to drunk, sweaty football fans can confirm.

Oh yeah, they also sell alcohol now, a new trend shared by many programs across the nation. At least the lower stadium capacity means shorter bathroom lines.

The end result was the aforementioned sellout. Late Saturday night, when freshman quarterback Sam Howell found receiver Dazz Newsome for the go-ahead score with just a minute left, Sleepy Kenan was anything but. I’ve seen close to 100 football games in Kenan, and it had never been louder. I was astounded.

With the new buzz came game-day traffic the likes of which Chapel Hill hasn’t seen in close to a decade. Take your time getting there, and take your time getting out. Kenan’s once-celebrated horseshoe design that gave wide views of towering pines was closed off years ago, but there are still few stadiums with a better view for a football game. Enjoy it. On the walk back to the car, despite the last-second heroics and post-game celebrations, it’s easy to gaze up through those pines, at the half-moon peeking through the scattered clouds, and feel that kiss of content.

I’m impressed with the changes made at Kenan. The field looks sharper, and everyone in the stadium can now stretch their arms without whacking the person next to them. But what’s most impressive is the immediate, stunning shift in culture that Brown has facilitated in his 10 months at the helm. There was a hum at Kenan on Saturday usually reserved only for basketball games. It was simply galvanizing.

You can forget about “Sleepy Kenan.” The Tar Heels now hold a formidable home field advantage at a fan-friendly stadium. Their next home game is September 21 vs Appalachian State. Better get to Stubhub—it’s another sellout.

As for me, I’ll be reviewing BB&T Field this weekend when Wake Forest hosts the Tar Heels on Friday night.

Categories: Sports

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