Rhodes Stadium – Elon Phoenix
Photos by Will Halpern, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Rhodes Stadium 1 Stadium Dr Elon, NC 27244
Year Opened: 2001
The Phoenix Rise at Rhodes Stadium
Founded in 1889, Elon College started its football program twenty years later. Spending time in the North State and South Atlantic Conferences in the NAIA and then in Division II, Elon rose to the Division I ranks in 1999, ninety years after the football program began. Known first as the Fightin’ Christians, they decided to adopt a more inclusive name as they entered the NCAA’s top division. The name “Phoenix” comes from the 1923 fire that destroyed much of campus – the trustees wanted to make the school “rise from the ashes” like a phoenix. The following year the school became Elon University.
Starting out in the Big South Conference, in 2003 the university joined the Southern Conference, where they stayed for the next eleven years before finally moving into the Colonial Athletic Conference where they compete today. The team first played off-campus at Burlington Athletic Stadium in neighboring Burlington, but since 2001 they’ve called the on-campus Rhodes Stadium home.
Food & Beverage 5
Rhodes Stadium boasts a wide variety of local food options. This is surprising for an FCS school, where usually you expect basic stadium food and not much more. The food is also reasonably priced as well; a hot dog or a slice of pizza is just three dollars. An Elon Pit Beef Sandwich, which consists of beef, sweet onions, and horseradish ketchup on a potato roll will set you back only seven dollars, while six dollars can get you Vegan Chick’n Nuggets or San Guiseppe’s Local Sausage of the day, and that’s all at one concessions stand.
Cockadoolemoo, a food truck, offers either wet or dry rub ribs, or you can get a mixture of both, as well a pulled pork sandwich with your choice of either Eastern-style Vinegar or Western-style Tomato (or both!). Given Elon’s location right in the middle of the geographic NC BBQ debate, and given that 80% of Elon students are from outside the Tar Heel State, the choice allows those new to the battle for BBQ supremacy to weigh in for themselves.
Bojangles Cajun Filet Sandwich, as well as crab cake and vegetarian crab cake sandwiches, round out the main courses, and the Nutn’ But Luv stand offers pecans, almonds, and cashews. For popcorn, Charlie’s Popcorn and Kettle Corn is the place to go, while for dessert, Pelican’s Snoballs offer thirteen different flavors of Italian Ice, or at the local Smitty’s Ice Cream stand you can choose from among eight different flavors. Pepsi is the soft drink option here, and while alcohol sales are expanding at college football stadiums, Rhodes Stadium does not offer any adult beverages at the moment.
Rhodes Stadium is definitely not a large stadium by any means, as the total capacity comes in at 11,250, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more space to pack in fans. The stadium has seating on both sides – those on the east side (sections 108-112) are bleacher seating that is usually taken by those rooting for the visitors. The west side seating has two levels, with sections 200, 201, 206-208, and 105-107 being standard bleacher seating, while sections 202-205 have chair backs. Sections 101-104 are reserved for students, and the rest of the seating area consists of lawn seating, with the south side being known as Phoenix Hill. The hill allows people to relax and take in a game on the grass from almost anywhere around the stadium, unlike most stadiums where lawn seating, if it exists at all, is usually behind an end zone.
If you’re looking to sit in the shade, it’s important to arrive early as (especially during early-season games) those seats can fill up quickly. There is a video board in the northeast corner of the stadium next to the Alumni Field House, and Elon like most schools, has a cheerleading squad and a mascot, and their marching band “The Fire of the Carolinas” is fantastic. The fact that the stadium doesn’t have a track means that fans have an even more intimate view of the field. The fans are passionate and can make the stadium loud on game day, which provides a perfect combination of a relaxing and electric place to take in a game.
Rhodes Stadium is located on the north end of campus alongside the other athletic facilities such as Latham Park and Rudd Field, home to the baseball and soccer programs, as well as the Elon Bell Tower, and across the street from the new Schar Center, which is home to Elon’s men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams.
Elon is a small college town, with the university encompassing the town of Elon and vice versa. That being said, there are places to check out near Rhodes Stadium – a mile and a half away right on the Elon-Gibsonville border is The Mission: The Tacos for the South, where Mexican meets Southern with options such as The Carolina Pork Taco with pimento cheese, roasted pork and BBQ sauce, and southern nachos, with pork, BBQ sauce, chorizo, and sour cream. Or, a short fifteen-minute walk south of the stadium is Tangent Eat and Bar with unique kinds of tacos for under four dollars each. For example, there are the chicken and waffle taco, bahn mi tofu taco, and fried green tomato taco, as well as fried rice and fried corn on the cob, along with a great drink selection. It is also worth driving to neighboring Burlington – about a ten-minute drive southeast – to Hursey’s Bar-B-Q, which offers incredible Piedmont style BBQ (a combination of both Eastern and Western) with delicious sandwiches and plates, and some of the most incredible hush puppies ever served.
The town of Elon itself doesn’t have much to do, though it is worth taking a walk around campus, as Elon was voted the prettiest campus in the country by the Princeton Review a number of times. However, Burlington is just a short drive away and there is a fair amount to do there. Animal lovers can check out the Animal Park at the Conservators Center to see more than twenty species of animals up close, including lions, tigers, and wolves, while those who enjoy shopping can check out Granddaddy’s Antique Mall, take a stroll in historic downtown Burlington, or shop at Alamance Crossing, or a little further away at the Tanger Outlets in Mebane.
History buffs can check out the Alamance Battleground in Burlington, a pre-revolutionary war battleground where farmers clashed with Governor Tryon’s Regulators in 1771. Or, those with children can visit City Park in Burlington which features a playground, train, boat ride, and an early twentieth-century carousel being refurbished and expected to be finished in 2021, or you can drive down to Graham for the Children’s Museum of Alamance County.
The closest hotel to the stadium (a half mile away) is the luxury twelve suite Acorn Inn, but if the prices are too steep or rooms are sold out, the next closest hotels are about a ten-minute drive south in Burlington, where you’ll find a number of the classic hotel chains such as Best Western, Courtyard by Marriott, and Country Inn and Suites.
Elon University has an unfortunate situation in certain ways; it’s located within an hour of four Power Five ACC schools in Wake Forest, Duke, UNC, and NC State, and therefore has a lot of bigger dogs to contend with. Also, Elon has a student body of just under 7,000 students so normally in that situation it would be easy to expect sparse crowds. However, as Elon has moved into the Colonial Athletic Conference and built a competitive football program, fan attendance is on the rise. Elon averaged 7,387 fans two seasons ago and 8,267 last year; both were good for sixth in a twelve-team conference. However, context is important as the programs they rank behind include the likes of Richmond, James Madison, and Delaware, all of whom have claimed national championships and have established themselves over the years as forces in the conference.
Elon is continuing to build a winning tradition, having only been in Division 1 Football for twenty years and the competitive CAA for five seasons. The fans are loud and passionate, decked out in Maroon and Gold, and there is a fun tailgating scene. The crowd is engaged throughout the game, cheering on their Phoenix. There is also a sizeable student presence which is nice to see from a smaller school. As Elon continues to win, and become a fixture in the CAA, the fan support likely will continue to increase.
Rhodes Stadium is a beautiful place to watch a football game, but getting to the stadium can sometimes prove challenging. Parking lots open five hours before game time, so it is worth getting to the game fairly early, as traffic closer to game time does get a little tough, especially as you approach campus. Parking is located in the Hunt B Parking lot behind the Schar Center, across the street from the stadium, for ten dollars. There is also parking at the Arts West Parking lot a bit further away. It’s free of charge, but it’s a bit of a walk and there are no shuttles. Handicap parking is available in that lot as well as in three other lots around campus, though a permit is required to park in the other lots around campus, such as the Global Neighborhood Hunt A and Ingrid lots where handicap parking can be utilized.
Elon does offer Biobus service from campus to Burlington, Gibsonville, and other surrounding areas, however on Saturdays these services are limited and no public transportation to Burlington is offered. This can be a challenge because Elon does not have a Greyhound or Amtrak Station, and while Burlington has an Amtrak Station, on Saturdays there is no public transit to get from the station to campus, so if you don’t drive, rideshares like Uber or Lyft would be your best option, which can be a little expensive.
The main gate gets you in through the south end zone, and getting into the stadium is not too hard. The concourses are fairly wide though at times they can get a little congested. Bathrooms are clean and there is plenty of handicap seating throughout the stadium.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices at Elon are not too expensive and are generally around twenty dollars. Add the reasonable food prices and, though parking is a little steep, it comes out as a very solid deal to take in an Elon Phoenix game in a scenic intimate setting at Rhodes Stadium.
One point goes to the stadium itself – not every college football stadium has such great sightlines. Proximity to the action, either in one of the seating sections or on the lawn, contributes to a positive game experience. Point number two goes to the wide variety of affordable and local cuisine that Rhodes Stadium offers, while another point is for The Fire of the Carolinas (an appropriate name for the Phoenix’s band), which is one of the better smaller school bands I’ve heard. The fourth point is for the amount of tailgating around the stadium, a real addition to the pregame atmosphere, and the final point goes to Elon’s campus, a plausible candidate for prettiest campus in the country.
Elon University can be easy to miss if you’re just driving along I-40 across North Carolina. And, while it doesn’t have bigger conference ties that schools like NC State, UNC, East Carolina, or App State might have, a football game at Rhodes Stadium is absolutely worth attending. There is the close proximity of the action, there’s the fun of weighing in on the battle for BBQ Supremacy, there’s getting a scoop of Smitty’s Ice Cream, and finally there’s listening to the sounds of The Fire of the Carolinas while watching the passionate fans decked out in Maroon and Gold cheer on their Phoenix. Elon is getting more settled in the Colonial Athletic Conference, and with the team performance improving and fan attendance increasing, the Phoenix is truly rising up to become one of the top tier football experiences in North Carolina.