The visitors' corner of Koskinen Stadium holds a special place in my heart. For years, my family and our gang of soccer- and party- loving pals have infiltrated Gate 4 at Koskinen, the main soccer field at Duke University, parked a few feet from the bleachers, lugged our bleacher pads, blankets, and coolers up the steps, and feasted our eyes on great soccer. When I was little, my friends and I would run around under the bleachers, eat junk food, kick soccer balls into the nearby practice goals, and occasionally even watch the game. Though I may have grown out of that, the field remains great, safe entertainment for the whole family.
And it's typical of the kind of cheap, world-class excitement you can find if you're just willing to look past the big-time ACC sports.
The college soccer season starts in late August and continues through mid-November. Games are in the afternoons and evenings, once or twice a week. As the season progresses, Sprite gives way to hot chocolate, beer gives way to port, but the die-hard fans are there throughout. Nagging the referee is a favorite pastime, as is making fun of the opposing teams' clothes or hair. Don't blame us, we're just fans.
Parking, as previously mentioned, is two hops and a skip from the stands, which are in turn close enough to the field to pick out hairs on the players' legs. Those of you who regularly attend UNC soccer games will especially appreciate being able to put away your binoculars. Oh, and did I mention it's free? Walk in whenever you want; walk out whenever you want--though some of us are there long before the pre-game warm-up, and the walking out part usually doesn't happen until long after the field lights have been turned off.
The ability to bring your dogs and jog straight up to the goal line fence is one that can be experienced in very few college sports arenas, making Koskinen a unique venue. And it's not just the venue: The soccer team has been one of the most consistently victorious in Duke sports. Football can't say that.
Lesser-known free and cheap sports alternatives are available all over the Triangle, if you know where to look. Most people just don't take the time to figure out when and where the games are. Here are a few options to get you started; college Web sites follow the listings.
The Triangle has enough of America's national game to please even the most hardcore fans.
Carolina Mudcats--Zebulon's AA team is affiliated with the Florida Marlins. (www.gomudcats.com)
Durham Americans--See summer collegiate baseball at the historic Durham Athletic Park in the Coastal Plain League Championship. (www.durhamamericans.com)
Durham Bulls--It doesn't get much better than our AAA Tampa Bay Devil Rays affiliate. Lawn seating is only $4.50, so bring the kids and enjoy first-hand those fireworks that you hear all over Durham. (www.durhambulls.com)
Believe it or not, you can still see great basketball without shelling out the dough for a Duke men's ticket.
Duke: Stop scrambling for your season basketball tickets. There's an easier and cheaper way to see Duke tear up the court: the Lady Devils. They were last year's ACC champions ranked No. 1 in the country much of the season.
N.C. Central: Looking for intimate, exciting college basketball? Check out the NCCU Eagles' schedule online, and get ready to root for them in the upcoming CIAA tournament!
N.C. State: Prefer old field houses to big arenas? The Wolfpack women still play in Reynolds Coliseum.
Shaw: Both the men's and women's Shaw basketball teams came out strong last year, with the Lady Bears going on to take the CIAA title. They're sure to provide some incredible games this season as well, without thinning your wallet.
UNC: Cheer on the women's team that spawned a legend. Join the nearly 19,000 fans who attend every home game in Chapel Hill, a number that earned the Tar Heels a national fourth-place rank for home attendance last year.
Hockey doesn't have to mean expensive 'Canes tickets. Most colleges have field hockey teams, so finding good team sports entertainment is a breeze.
UNC: Right now the U.S. field hockey team is well on its way to earning a spot in the 2004 Olympics, and six of the women are former Tar Heels. Rest assured, there are more where those came from! Games start at the end of August, and schedules are already posted on the UNC website.
Duke: The Blue Devil field hockey team went fairly even last season, which, if they keep it up, promises close matches this year.
Again, there's more than the ACC:
NCCU: Prognosticators say N.C. Central University will take the No. 3 spot in the west CIAA division, and sixth overall. If you're tired of over-commercialization, NCCU might have just the ticket for you.
Shaw: The Bears have only just started playing football again, and aren't expected to finish higher than 10th place in the CIAA this season. But there's nothing better than seeing the underdog come from the bottom and take it all.
Duke: Duke's Kevin Cassese and Kevin Brennan were picked this year in the Major League Lacrosse college craft; Cassese was also picked two years in a row for the All-America team. This is world-class stuff; catch it this spring.
UNC: Last year's Lady Tar Heel lacrosse star Kellie Thompson was picked for the U.S. Elite team, but even though you won't see her on Fetzer Field again, UNC offers plenty of excellent men's and women's lacrosse.
What's bigger than ping-pong? Tennis!
Duke: Who's the male Blue Devil of the year? Hint: He's a tennis player. Curious? If you live in Durham, you've no doubt noticed the newly renovated Ambler Tennis Stadium on Towerview Road. Enliven your winter months this season and feast your eyes on the fine skills of Michael Yani and company.
NCSU: State's tennis program is also gaining a brand new 30,000-square-foot building, the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Facility, with completion scheduled this fall. In addition to the new building, five new players have been signed to the team.
Some of the best soccer you're likely to find is right under your nose, for less than you might think. The proximity of strong colleges in the Triangle ensures exciting matches and tournaments, with more rivalries than you can shake a goalpost at.
Duke: Koskinen Stadium admission is free, so grab the family or some buddies and catch a few Blue Devil soccer games.
NCSU: Watch your favorite Tarantino boys at one of the top soccer complexes in the United States, Sunday, Aug. 24, as N.C. State kicks off the season with a Red vs. White exhibition game at SAS Soccer Stadium in Cary.
Meredith: The women of Meredith College play soccer on one of the best Bermuda grass fields in the South; fitting, if you've ever been to the campus and seen the superb landscaping and lush green expanses. But fear not, luxury hasn't weakened this team. The lack of athletic scholarships at Meredith ensures that all of the players are there because they love soccer.
UNC: Tar Heels will be pleased to know that UNC's men's soccer team is ranked fourth in the ACC, before Duke and N.C. State. If you can stand the sunny seats, the soccer is still great.
For details and schedules for all collegiate sports, visit each school's Web sites.