What an adventure! 110,000 people crammed into the night on about 16 acres of land, all surrounding and focused on a patch of illuminated grass 120 yards long by 53.3 yards wide, screaming at the top of their lungs. Now that’s an exciting and remarkable experience.
Which is what we thought as a family when we moved to Happy Valley back in 2005 – it would be an adventure. Not necessarily a big-time college football adventure, although we certainly looked forward to those opportunities, but more a family undertaking that was a bit bold and with some risk involved. But when we moved here, the one thing we thought we were missing in this new adventure was the proximity to amusement – specifically amusement parks – which was something we had in our family lives up to that point.
You see, a decade before that, when our first child was born, we lived in Orlando, Fla. As the folks at Visit Orlando will tell you, it is the No. 1 travel destination in the United States, a ranking that is primarily a result of the several large amusement parks to be found there – Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World.
Our house was on the west side of town only a few miles from these amusement parks and we, as many other locals did, purchased the discounted “Florida Resident” passes that provided year-round entrance to the parks, with only a few blackout dates excluded. On occasion after work I would take our young daughter to spend an hour or two at one of the parks. Over time Fievel's Playland and A Day in the Park with Barney in Universal Studios became our favorite evening “hangouts.” Watching the Barney show, then playing in the Playland was a great way to spend an hour or two before bedtime. It even got to the point that the staff at the Barney show knew our daughter by name and would call to her as she approached the line to get in. For those who have seen the show, we had a large supply of leaves when we finally moved away.
Luckily, when we left Orlando we moved to Bucks County, Pa., bought a house less than 2 miles from Sesame Place, and were able to keep the “amusement” in our lives. Although it is principally a water park and open in the warmer months of the year, it does have holiday hours on evenings and weekends. Since I was commuting long hours to New York City for work, this worked out fine for our growing family. We even began joking that if we did ever move again it would have to be someplace with an amusement park close by.
And then we moved to Happy Valley.
Sure, DelGrosso’s Amusement Park and Laguna Splash Water Park are only 30 miles from our house, but that’s not 2, or even 5 miles. It’s not nearby. In fact, it’s in another county. We figured that was the end of our family history of amusement closeness.
Turns out we were wrong. We have an amusement park nearby. It’s called Beaver Stadium. We just weren’t seeing the forest for the trees.
Over the past few months we’ve been enjoying a smaller football experience with our son’s Division I FCS team at places around the northeast United States. As we talk to folks in these travels and explain where we live, we often get a wistful response that they wish they could have a Beaver Stadium type of game experience once – usually said in the same manner as if one were longing for a trip to Disney World.
As Happy Valley residents we are spoiled when it comes to the college football experience. We live within a few miles of the second-largest college football stadium in the country by seating capacity. There are 673 colleges playing NCAA football in this country. That means 671 team’s fans watch in stadiums that are smaller. Most are much smaller. As in 95% or more smaller, causing the entire experience to be vastly different. Beaver Stadium also has what many consider to be the best tailgating atmosphere in the country, which is again, a crème-de-la-crème experience. Not to mention, most others who have the chance to take part in this show drive hours to do so.
Another example of our being spoiled came in a question we were asked at one of these smaller stadiums that highlights the huge gap between these collegiate fan experiences. A couple asked us if Beaver Stadium has 50/50 raffles, a time-honored tradition at many schools to raise a few dollars for their programs. We were surprised that someone would even ask, but that was because they have never had a Beaver Stadium adventure and amusement ride.
Occupying Beaver Stadium with 110,000 other people is an experience you can get few other places on the planet. At night, under the lights, after a full day of tailgating, it’s ethereal. You have the good-versus-evil dichotomy as with Ariel and Ursula on the Journey of the Little Mermaid ride. You have the uplifting, “we’re a happy family” message as in the Barney show. You have the moments of tongue-in-cheek humor with all kinds of exotic creatures as on the Jungle Cruise ride. You have the zooming highs and lows in the darkness and never knowing where you’ll turn next as on Space Mountain. It’s an amusement park unto itself. As I said, what an adventure.
Now if we could just get Disney to supply the concession stands in Beaver Stadium, our amusement park experience would be complete.