October 12, 2019
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium (Capacity: 22,375)
Walsh Cavaliers vs Findlay Oilers
Final Score: 10 – 19
A weekend of football brought us to Northeast Ohio and a city synonymous with the sport in Canton. With a population of 73,000, the small city is similar to many in the area as manufacturing success faded to a downturn. The difference in Canton though is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which opened here in 1963, celebrating the founding of the sport in the area. It’s the pinnacle for players and a special place for fans. Next door to the HOF, is the site of the old Fawcett Stadium, built in 1938 for the adjacent McKinley High School. Fawcett became much more than McKinley’s stadium as it was used for many local teams and eventually, the Hall of Fame. The NFL would use it for their enshrinement ceremonies and annual opening preseason game. The simple structure consisting of four separate sides of bleacher seating departed in 2015-2016 when the HOF began a massive expansion of their complex and that included a rebuild of the stadium. Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium was the result, an ultra-modern, high-tech facility capable of hosting both Enshrinement Week festivities, in addition to year-round events. Along with continuing to host the Hall of Fame Game, the Stadium still is home to McKinley, occasional championship games and Walsh University, the team of choice for our visit. Walsh is a small, catholic private school and they’ve played football here since 1998 as an NAIA member. They became a full NCAA member at the DII level in 2013 and have yet to enjoy a winning season.
Prestige Ranking: 3 out of 5
Located in a cluster that butts up with I-77 is the Hall of Fame Campus, the Stadium and McKinley High School. Of course, the HOF being a walk away makes this a fantastic location for a sports venue. One thing lacking is restaurants, though that may change if the giant Hall of Fame Village ever gets completed. There are plans for a Prominade that includes restaurants and sports bars. However, construction on this ambitious, near $1 billion undertaking has stalled as of this writing. Outside of this cluster is a neighborhood. Canton’s other attractions aren’t far away. Very nearby is the McKinley Presidential Library, while downtown is a couple miles to the southeast and that features a few neat things and spots.
Location Ranking: 7 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Northeast Ohio has plenty of interstates for access from all directions. The Stadium and HOF is right next to I-77 with exit 107A providing fairly simple access. Parking can present problems depending on the event. For Walsh, you can use the parking lot next to the high school. It’s then a short walk to the stadium. Assuming you’re seeing the HOF as well, it’s still ok to use the HS (plus it saves you $10). For larger events (including High School or College Championship games), parking is a big issue as there is not close to enough of it. Game attendees would need to drive to the Stark County Fairgrounds and then shuttle over.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
Coming from the high school lot, the exterior is surprisingly dull. Power lines and telephone poles are in the way of the gray and silver building that features a paneled look. A stadium sign that should be on the actual stadium isn’t and instead lies on a fence in front. From the other side near the HOF, you can see the back of the concrete step seating with a brick wall at ground level. The bricks are appealing with varying tan colors.
Exterior Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
Concourse and Food
We went to the game right after a visit to the HOF and it was cumbersome because the only entrance was the complete opposite side; you couldn’t even use a pathway as we had to walk around the high school. Once past an odd gate placed way before the stadium, a walking path is needed to reach the open, empty plaza in the northwest corner. Things get much better in the actual concourse as the completely covered area also has a view of the field and an option to watch from there with drink rails. Light brick walls line the other side and there is only one concession stand. Framework is a dark gray and though there are support beams right in the middle of the walkways, the space is wide enough because of typical crowd size and the open area behind the north endzone. Plus, there is a concourse for the upper-level too. Going downhill to the other sideline, the area is very wide and partially exposed. It’s a great spot as the brick walkways lead to a HOF logo and you can see where inductees walk out onto the grand stage to a full stadium for their shining moment. Very cool. What’s not cool is the plain food offerings: Brats, Hot Dogs, Nachos, Pretzels, Popcorn and Peanuts. Blah.
Concourse Ranking: 4 out of 5
Food Ranking: 1.5 out of 8
This is not just an exceptional facility for D2 football, it is a stadium that rivals any at the FBS level as well. The setting is on a hillside and the bulk of the seating is on the west sideline. Here, the double-decker structure offers optimal sightlines. Game views are relatively close and at a perfect height level with no obstructions. Unfortunately, for Walsh games, the upper deck is roped off, but I snuck up there to take a peak and the view is even better since you get to see the famous football-shaped HOF building just beyond the stadium. Rows are wide and so are the dark blue seats as they come with cupholders. The color exception comes at the top middle of the upper-deck as that is the location of the gold seats. These are reserved for the Hall of Famers on Enshrinement Night. This visual is even more evident (and powerful) when coming through the stage on the other side of the stadium. Above the gold chairs is a large, windowed building that contains plenty of amenities including clubs, lounges, luxury suites and VIP terraces. None of this is for Walsh fans however. The west stands fan out towards the corners, where they are turned towards the field and on the lower level, these seats wrap around the north endzone. After a large opening, seating resumes with the east stands. These are simpler and at a more shallow pitch, yet they’re still fine for game-viewing. One odd piece that this side contains is a temporary, middle pull-out section of seats. Reason is that they can fold up to be removed and replaced by a stage (for concerts and the induction ceremony). The south endzone is currently barren and I’m not sure what kind of construction they have planned there as the space was fenced off and dead at the time of visit.
Interior Ranking: 13 out of 14
All this money and you can’t build a better scoreboard? Maybe the one in the north endzone is temporary, but for now, it is a simple black base with game information on the lower third and a graphics board/video screen above that. I’m not sure if it has video capabilities, because that was never used for the Walsh game (maybe it wasn’t broadcasted). Thus, advertisements and generic graphics were on it all game, including a curious “No Smoking” one. An annoying missing feature is that there is plenty of space on the façade of each seating bowl for vital game info, however each one only has a game clock.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2 out of 4
Near the main entrance, they’ve preserved an old “Gate 1” post and on it, is a worn plaque dedicating John A. Fawcett Stadium as part of the Works Progress Administration. The rest of the stadium, while beautiful, lacks character. I know that many different things go on here, but it would have been nice to see Hall of Fame stuff. Walsh clearly just borrows the stadium as they get no recognition at all. Behind the north end zone is a statue of Tom Benson, I think (there’s no name on it).
Displays Ranking: 1 out of 6
Parking is free and tickets are $10, which is a common price for most of the other teams in the G-MAC. Concession prices are slightly more expensive than what you would expect at this level: $5 for a hot dog, $2 for chips and $4 for a water.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Even the best D2 crowd would struggle to make this large stadium look full. With that being said, it’s still pretty ugly. There were 342 people in attendance for this Walsh game. I’m not sure what has happened this season as the average crowd size has gone from 1482 last year (and near that in prior years) to just 581 this season. Their G-MAC attendance ranking of 5th (out of 8 teams) in 2018 will likely drop to 7th this year.
Fan Support Ranking: 1 out of 8
It’s hard for the expansive stadium to allow for much of it, but I was pleasantly surprised by those on hand. They were vocal and you could even say a dull roar occurred after big plays. The crowd was cheering before a big defensive third down and I even heard an old-school air horn (love those). A faint “Go Cavs Go” came out as well. Walsh does have a small marching band and they played after scores and at halftime.
Atmosphere Ranking: 5 out of 14
The old Fawcett Stadium was named after John, a former Canton BOE member. After the rebuild, Tom Benson was honored as he was a heavy donor for the project…..Walsh’s campus is in North Canton, about 10 minutes from their home stadium….Walsh’s league is the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, often shortened to G-MAC…..We were fortunate that the morning rain cleared for a completely sunny afternoon as that helped to stay somewhat warm with temperatures in the upper 40s. What didn’t help was the bathrooms having cold water AND cold hand dryers.
Walsh started well as they took the opening drive for a touchdown. It wouldn’t take long for the Oilers to strike back and by the end of the first quarter, they were up 10-7. The rest of the game was a field goal fest and that kept Walsh in it, but it just wasn’t meant to be. With four minutes left, another Findlay field goal put them up 19-10 and then they recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. It was a bizarre sequence as the refs gathered for a while and negated the recovery, saying it was kick-catch interference. Then two minutes later, another huddle and they mysteriously said it wasn’t (without video replay) and gave the ball back to Findlay. Hilarity then ensued at the end of the game as Walsh took the ball with a minute left. They ran the same exact play 5 straight times: a 10-yard out to Jeb Palk. On the 5th instance, Eriq Fadahunsi easily jumped the route for an interception that nearly went back for a touchdown. Inept Walsh fell to 1-5 with the loss and they were outgained 454-195.