Hancock Stadium – Illinois State Redbirds
Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Hancock Stadium 211 North Main Street Normal, IL 61761
Year Opened: 1963
House Of The Cards
Illinois State University was founded in 1857 as a school to train teachers. Today it has a student body of more than 21,000 students. 93% of the students are from the state of Illinois. The top degree programs are elementary education, business administration, and special education.
The football program at Illinois State has been around since 1887. It is a member of the FCS level of NCAA competition as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds took home the MVC Championship in 1999, 2014, and 2015. They have gone on to play in the FCS playoffs eight times and were the runner-up in the 2015 National Championship game. Their rivalry game against Eastern Illinois has been played every season since 1901, and it is known as the “Mid-America Classic.
The on-campus Hancock Stadium has served as the home field of Redbird football since 1963. Today it has a capacity of 13,391 seats divided between large grandstands that are on the sides of the playing field. Since its opening in 1963, the stadium has gone through several renovations. In 1969 the school installed an artificial turf field. They were one of the first FCS-level schools in the country to go with the new product. In 2010 the school replaced the original product with a new and improved version of artificial turf.
Food & Beverage 3
There are three stadium concession stands servicing the east side of the seating bowl and two servicing the west side stands. In addition, both Avanti’s and Papa John’s have stood on the east side, while J & J’s supplements the ISU stands on the west side of the field. Concessions include BBQ sandwiches ($7), polish sausages ($4), hot dogs ($5), nachos ($7), pretzels ($4), popcorn ($5), cookies ($6), candy ($4), and chips ($3). Beverages include Coca-Cola brand sodas ($6), water ($4), coffee ($4), and Gatorade ($6).
The stadium you see as you enter on gameday is vastly different than the stadium before the last major renovation in 2013. This renovation saw the east side of the stadium demolished and then rebuilt with many more seats than it formerly had. Bleacher back seats were installed in the premium seating areas. Those with deep pockets can now sit in one of the 500 new stadium club seats or enjoy the game in the climate-controlled comfort club member’s room. Those with even deeper pockets can enjoy one of the seven suites added to the stadium.
Both the student section and the Big Red Marching Machine have designated seating in the west side bleachers. This means the east side seats are mostly alums or townspeople who come to the games. This keeps both sides happy, as the alums prefer not to have to talk over the band or a group of students that are there for socialization, not the game.
The scoreboard you see in the south end zone was installed as a part of the 2013 renovations. Below it is a small area known as the Heller Stores Touchdown Terrace. Fans can bring a blanket or a beach towel to sit on this small berm.
Touchdown Terrace, Photo by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Bloomington-Normal is the quintessential Midwestern city. It has a strong economy, as it is the headquarters for State Farm Insurance and electric auto maker Rivian. The pair of cities feature very healthy downtown areas, which include both mom-and-pop stores, in addition to national chains.
The Bloomington/Normal area has been recognized as one of the top 40 college towns in the country. The cities have an excellent relationship with Illinois State. This is based on the quality of life and the availability of arts and entertainment opportunities. It has also been cited as the most educated metropolitan city in the state of Illinois.
If you are looking for cultural activities, the Children’s Discovery Museum is a great place to start. History buffs will find several attractions related to Rte. 66, which dissects the cities of Bloomington and Normal. In addition to ISU sporting events, sports fans can take in a baseball game at the Corn Crib, the home of the Normal Cornbelters.
Like most towns with a major college presence, Bloomington-Normal offers some great eateries and watering holes, such as Cadillac Jack’s, and local favorites Pub II and Carl’s Ice Cream.
The fan base at Illinois State mirrors what you would find at most college stadiums on a Saturday afternoon anywhere in the country. The alums and faculty sit on the east side of the stadium. The alums are more into the game, and often can be more vocal about what they see on the field. The parents of many of the team members also sit in this area. They tend to be loud, especially when their son makes a great play.
The fans on the west side of the stadium are more vocal than the old-school fans on the other side. The ISU student section is several aisles wide and is known as the Red Alert. They coordinate their efforts with the spirit squads and the ISU band. The Big Red Marching Machine plays tunes from the early morning hours at the tailgates until the Alma Mater concludes the day after the game.
Illinois State has several great traditions that fans look forward to on game days. The first of these is the antics of the Redbird’s mascot, Reggie. He is virtually everywhere on the campus before the kickoff – greeting tailgaters, opening Reggie’s Fun Zone for the younger set two hours before the game, and leading the Redbirds onto the field just before the kickoff. Another tradition is having the Victory Bell on site for games. The bell is mobile and accompanies the team onto the field before the game. It is rung whenever the Redbirds score or after the final whistle when the home team brings home a victory. The last tradition has the players rubbing the Battle Bird’s head before the game for good luck.
A new tradition added for the 2022 season is the Redbird Row. This pregame experience will feature live music, performances by both the ISU cheerleaders and the school band, and large video screens tuned to other college football games going on around the country. The Bird Walk will come through this area 2.5 hours before the kickoff.
Getting to Hancock Stadium and your seat is easy on gamedays. The stadium is located at the northwest corner of the intersection of College Avenue and Main Street. The campus and the stadium are easily accessed from many different directions on I-55, which is only two miles away.
Once you’ve parked, enjoy yourself! Tailgating in the parking lots is allowed after 7 am on Redbirds game days. As the game draws closer, you’ll use one of ten gates to get into Hancock Stadium. The gates open one hour before kick-off, so you have plenty of time to reach your seat. The concourses were widened as a part of the last stadium renovation project, so you should not have any problem navigating to your seat.
Return on Investment 3
Attending a Redbirds game at Hancock Stadium does not have to cost you an arm and a leg. Let’s begin with your arrival at the ISU campus with your car. Parking in any of the campus parking lots on gamedays is $10. You can prepay for a parking pass when you purchase your tickets. The food at the concession stands is not flashy, but it is available for a reasonable price.
Ticket prices can vary a little bit between each game. This is a reflection on the opponent, whether it is a special game (i.e., Homecoming or the first game of the season, etc.) Tickets in the club seating area along the 50-yard line cost $40-$50. Reserved seating costs $30-$40, and all other seating in the bleachers is considered General Admission, which runs $20-$30 for adults and $15-$20 for children aged 12 and under.
Originally the Illinois State teams went with the moniker of the “Fighting Teachers” as a nod to the school’s original purpose. Even back then, the leadership of the university realized this was not an appropriate name for the school team. The team wore red and white uniforms, leading a professor to suggest the name “Cardinals” for the team. The team did decide to go with a bird name, but chose “Redbirds” instead of Cardinals, as they felt that this would reduce any confusion with the very well-established St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2015 seven members of the Illinois State athletic staff and some of the school’s top boosters died in a plane crash near the Bloomington-Normal Airport. This could have been a crushing blow to the school’s athletic programs. Instead, the school decided to honor the deceased in a meaningful way, which would involve student-athletes in the school for years to come.
A memorial was built near the north entrance to the Redbird Arena. It features a fountain with seven columns to represent the seven who perished on the flight. A Battle Bird sculpture was also built, and that sculpture is at Hancock Stadium for every game. Each player touches the sculpture before they take the field, using this inspiration to honor those who died too soon.
Hancock Stadium at Illinois State University is a great place to be on a crisp autumn afternoon. Gamedays begin with social activities along Redbird Row and are followed by some great football. The fans cheer on the Victory Bell after each Redbirds score and end the evening by singing the alma mater with the Big Red Marching Machine providing the music. Football in the Midwest doesn’t get better than this.