Story by Tim Cato Denton Live Fall-Winter 2015
Going spot to spot allows him to catch up with the dozens of friends he’s made throughout the years, thanks to Mean Green Athletics. He might linger at one tent for a bit longer than another, but he never stays put for long. It’s always off to the next one. “It drives my wife crazy,” he jokes, but it lets him get a taste of everybody’s grilling.
There’s the Greek Life row on the hill overlooking everything, complete with horseshoes, open grills and neon colors. The marching band is scheduled to pass through 30 minutes before kickoff on the way to their positions on the student side of the stadium. On the far end of the Victory parking lots, friend Scott Campbell has brought his cousins – professional grillers happily feeding anyone who wanders in, whether it’s friends, family or strangers attracted by the smell of the barbeque.
Foot traffic is constant year-round in the parking lot and areas surrounding the stadium, but never more so than the hours leading up to a game. The spectrum of greens, wafting smells of food and hubbub of laughter gives this place life on game day.
Mark has been a mainstay at UNT games since starting as an undergraduate in 1966. Lately, he’s one of the few things that have stayed the same. Both Denton and the Mean Green game day experience have changed with the move to Apogee Stadium in 2011 and rapid growth of the city. Increased student involvement and a buzz about the team are both here to stay.
“I tell people all the time: there’s never been a better time to be associated with UNT,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who you are. There’s just never been a better time.”
University of North Texas vs UT-El Paso football game. UNT wins 41-7. Photograph taken on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 at Apogee Stadium in Denton. (Gary Payne/UNT Photo)
Denton’s population has grown 52.8 percent since 2000, according to city-data.com. It’s developed past an awkward, pimply-faced stage and is finding its own unique self in these past few years. The Historic Downtown Denton Square is booming, the suburbs expanding and UNT is moving faster than ever. Mean Green Game Days reflects every bit of that.
Free shuttles are offered between downtown and the stadium every time the Mean Green takes the field. The CVB promotes many deserving business sponsors that can help you enjoy the hours before and after the game. And Mean Green Athletics brings it all together, providing a quality experience during the day’s number one show. Football, as they say, still reigns supreme in Texas.
“People like getting here early and being a part of everything,” Deputy Athletic Director Hank Dickenson says. “We’ve also got a revitalized downtown, which is a neat thing for people to experience. If you’re an alum from 10 years ago, you’re blown away with what’s going on down here.”
Now it’s easier than ever for alum to catch a game by riding the DART Green Line and connecting with the DCTA A-train to arrive in downtown Denton in less than an hour. Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream appeals to families; LSA Burger Co and their music-themed burgers for couples; Oak St. Drafthouse for those of age; Barefoot Athletics for Mean Green apparel; and the Courthouse lawn for everybody. Free shuttles take you from downtown Denton to the pedestrian bridge that stretches across I-35 over to Apogee Stadium.
None of this existed when Mark was a student. The university didn’t even allow tailgating around Fouts Field, the old stadium. Students who tried to hang out and drink outside the stadium before games used to be run off. But that was in the past, and change was inevitable: full-fledged tailgating was eventually allowed in the Fouts parking lot. The move to Apogee, though, created a phenomenon unlike anything else Miller remembers in his 50 years as a Mean Green fan.
“What people need to understand is the change in the attitude of the administration towards athletics and student involvement in athletics and tailgating and the whole game day situation,” he says. “There are a few people down there who are beginning to get it.”
The square has always been Denton’s iconic feature, but it has turned into a crucial element of Mean Green game days – especially after a win.
“No question winning helps, and I think you see that downtown,” Hank says. “People want to stick around longer [after a win], spend a little bit more money, not in as big of a hurry to go back home. ‘Let’s go get a burger, let’s go grab a beer, let’s hang around.’”
With the Mean Green football team on the rise – winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013 – everything is colliding at once, and at just the right time.
One small regret Laura Zamora has about her 2011 graduation from UNT is missing out on Apogee Stadium.
She’s been since, of course. Because Laura works and lives in Dallas, she tries to make it to three home games each year. But as a student, there was something dismal about cheering on losing teams in a stadium that was falling apart.
“[Apogee] definitely improves the atmosphere,” she says. “When we were there at Fouts it was just an old, rundown stadium that was kind of depressing in a way. I don’t know if it was the football team’s season or the stadium, but it was always just, like, big clouds hanging over it.”
It’s all different now. The atmosphere is improved, the wins seem easier to come by and, since 2014, beer is now sold at the Apogee. Students don’t work games into their schedule, but rather work their schedules around games. Laura revisits Denton to see what’s new in the rapidly changing city.
“When I go back I don’t just go to the game and leave right away,” she says. “I go walking around campus, I go to the bookstore, I go exploring around Denton. I want to see what has been happening, what everybody’s been up to, even what construction is on campus, just walking around – it’s all fascinating to me. At the same time, I just go back for nostalgia.”
An alum who experienced the campus five, 10 or 15 years ago wouldn’t understand how much change Denton and UNT sports have undergone.
“I always saw the upside of working closely with downtown,” Hank says. “Fouts was a huge deterrent. I realized at the time that it was a challenge. I look back on it now and see everything that we can get done at Apogee so seamlessly.”
Everything seems to be coming together – the city, the university, the team. But no matter if the Mean Green players jog off elated after a win or trudge away, shoulders slumped in a loss, game day still feels like something new and special when you’re in Denton.
“I’m old enough now that I don’t live and die by win-loss records anymore,” Mark says. “I just love the whole atmosphere. I never want to live anywhere that isn’t a college town – period.”