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Game Day Experience: Hawaii

What’s a football game at Clarence T.C. Ching Stadium like?

These are strange times for Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football. The team is struggling, largely due to the exodus of talent from this past January. Hawaii has scout team players from 2021 starting in 2022. That’s not good! Reasonable Hawaii fans have come to the conclusion that patience is required with Timmy Chang and the gang.

Away from the field, drama continues. NASED, the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District, is still on track to happen but now out-going Gov. David Ige is shaking things up last minute. The headlines never end.

In the meantime, Hawaii plays its football games at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex Stadium. An athletic building and practice facility for years morphed into a temporary college football stadium. There are plans to expand the stadium to 17,000 capacity for next season.

Some people wonder if Hawaii should just build out CTCCC to around 30,000 and call it good. Save taxpayers money, and UH gets to play campus. I’ll spare you the politics and instead tell you about my visit to Oahu a week ago!

I was on vacation in Waikiki with my dad and brother, and on Saturday we went to homecoming game against Duquesne. We arrived several hours early to catch the vibe of it all. First things first: you cannot access the athletic section of lower campus without a parking pass. After gaining access, we parked in the parking structure. The parking pass says no tailgating is allowed. Lame, but I think tailgating in this sense meant no grilling, cooking of any sort because I saw several people bust out chairs and eat food they brought with them.

I decided to go through gates two hours early to study the pregame stadium feel, so I cannot report on whether the lines into the stadium are busy closer to kickoff.

Hawaii has food vendors located in every corner of the stadium on the track (the track that will be moved next season). The food was spendy, but it’s Oahu so what do you expect? I have no desire to disparage the food vendors, the food selection was what I’d classify as “fine”. Not bad by any means, but considering the standard of Hawaiian cuisine, I expected better. I do not know if the vendors are consistent from game-to-game, or if there are different vendors for each game. Considering the likes of Rainbow Drive-In are less than a 5 minute drive away, I’m not sure I can honestly endorse eating at the game. If I’m spending $15-$20 for a meal, I’d do it prior to entering the lower campus.

After purchasing my food, I decided to take advantage of a unique twist to this venue and sit down in Les Murakami Stadium, Hawaii’s baseball stadium. Fans are allowed to sit in the stadium to avoid the sun. Hawaii has portable bathrooms in each corner of the stadium, but it seemed like nobody uses them because the bathrooms at LMS are available to fans.

At LMS, there is an area for kids to play in. I hung out with my brother and dad until kickoff to avoid sitting on metal bleachers for an hour or more. I enjoyed it, it had been ages since I had sat in the baseball stadium.

Once we approached around 15 minutes to kickoff, we went to our endzone seats before the band and national anthem got going. As someone who has been following Hawaii football since the mid-90s, it was surreal to see an official football game prepping to take place on campus. A foolish off-season topic of the past had come to life. Credit to athletic director Dave Matlin and his team at Hawaii for making this happen. Few schools have fall back options should their primary stadium suddenly be condemned like Aloha Stadium.

As kickoff approached, first thing I noticed: my goodness, the scoreboard was a mile away. I could just barely make out the numbers. Picture below. Yes, for real, that’s the only scoreboard in the stadium.

Hawaii’s capacity is only 9,000 for now, so to nobody’s surprise endzone seats were as good as it got for visitors from the mainland, as all the seats stationed on the sidelines are reserved for season ticket holders and donors. The experience was typical. Amazing action when the players are on our side of the field, busting out the binoculars when the action is on the other side of the field.

Still, the environment was fun. Hawaii fans may be few in the stadium, but the jovial bunch knew how to be loud and proud. The performance of this team has not dictated their passion for them.

The game was fun, college football in person always is, but obviously the contest itself wasn’t thrilling. Hawaii extended its streak without a touchdown pass, which agitated some fans. Loudest moment of the game was Penei Pavihi’s 50-yard pick-six. After the game, fans were allowed to see the players on the field 20 minutes after the final whistle.

Traffic out of the stadium is overstated, or at least it was in my case. It wasn’t that bad all considered. Although, increasing attendance to 17,000 or beyond would obviously change that.

The overall experience was fun, but strange. Seeing Hawaii play a real, official football game away from Aloha Stadium was surreal. There were moments of nostalgia being around the local fans, but obviously this was new for me venue wise. I’m guessing I’ll revisit Hawaii before 2026 when the NASED is supposedly poised to be finished (yes, yes I know. “Hawaiian time” might say otherwise), so maybe I’ll visit Clarence T.C. Ching Complex again. Or maybe I’ll watch the Warriors play in their new stadium! Who knows, that debate is only just beginning.

Final analysis: well done by Hawaii’s athletic administration. The stadium venue is far from perfect, but the Rainbow Warriors found a positive solution to an unusual and unprecedented problem. Follow through on the goal of 17,000 capacity in 2023, and Hawaii will have a cozy little stadium that will serve as home for Warrior football. Hopefully not for too long, but UH is wise to get comfortable as they await the drama of NASED to give way to results.