You may be wondering exactly what Gus the Gorilla is doing on the Great Plains in Pittsburg, Kansas. The answer is that he is the mascot cheering on the Pitt State football team on Saturdays in the fall and other sports the rest of the year.
Pittsburg State University sits in Southeast Kansas not far from the Missouri border. It is in somewhat of a remote location for a school, but the Gorillas have run a successful athletic program in the MIAA and NCAA.
The Gorillas play their home games at Carnie Smith Stadium, a facility that can hold almost 12,000 fans when standing room is taken into account. This is smaller than the mega stadiums seen with some universities, but the noise generated when the Gorillas are on defense in a tight game is enough to put some of those bigger schools to shame. The stadium, after all, isn't nicknamed "The Jungle" or 'The Pitt" for nothing.
Pittsburg is a college town where the game-day atmosphere is perfect for families who want to catch a game without the sheer size and intimidation of crowds elsewhere in the country. An RV trip to Pittsburg can make a lasting memory for all involved in the experience.
Pittsburg, Kansas is sandwiched between the Flint Hills to the west and the Ozarks to the southeast. This combination makes a Pitt State game an excellent stop while exploring the area in an RV.
The best way to get hold of Pitt State football tickets and make sure that you can see the game is by buying them online from the school's ticket office. For those willing to run the risk of a game being sold out, which may be unlikely, but it has happened in the past, another option is to get standing room only tickets, which are only available for purchase on game day. These have cost in the region of $15 per game in recent seasons.
Pittsburg is a fair distance from other cities, including Joplin, Missouri, which is the closest similar-sized town. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to get to either your campsite or to your parking spot for the game. Driving down from Kansas City may take about two hours on either US-69 or I-49, with the option of a Pitt State on Saturday and Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday double-header being a great reason to visit the area. Whatever direction you are coming from, the city and the football stadium are well signposted and easy to find.
Travelers may find a handful of parking lots near Carnie Smith Stadium, and many of them are within walking distance of the facility. Parking in the lots that aren't reserved for permit holders has been around $5 per game in recent seasons.
Pittsburg University RV parking, along with buses, is in the Weede Parking lot. This is adjacent to the Weede Building on campus. This is a first-come, first-served area (no reservations), so make sure that you get there with your RV nice and early if you are looking to park here for the game.
Public transportation options into Pittsburg are few and far between because of the remoteness of the city. Within Pittsburg itself, your best bet to get around is to drive or use a rideshare service. There are also 'Gus Buses' that act as shuttles around campus, though their availability on game day can be sketchy. The amount of parking near the stadium pretty much removes the need for public transport at Carnie Smith Stadium.
The Weede Parking lot is the place for RVers to head if they want to stay onsite and enjoy the tailgating and fun of a Gorillas game. This parking lot, which is first-come, first-served, is typically open for use the evening before a game as long as the RV is in place by a designated time. The lot then opens again alongside the rest of the lots on game day. Parking in this area often costs around $20 per game in recent seasons for buses and RVs.
Gorilla fans may find several Pittsburg RV parks to stay overnight but keep your distance from the stadium at the same time. RV parks and campgrounds in and around the city will generally have more amenities, including WiFi, seasonal swimming pools, and hookups.
Campgrounds further out will let you see more of a natural setting with fishing ponds and water sports. Crawford State Park is under 30 miles from the Pittsburg State University campus and often has campsites open year-round.
Lake Frances offers RV and camping with hookups for electricity, sewage, and water, and it is located between Pitt and Kansas City if you are looking to swing a football double-header.
The best way to get around on campus in Pittsburg and to Carnie Smith Stadium might be to leave the RV and walk. A venture on foot will allow you to see the Gorilla sculpture in Champions Plaza before the game, sample all the amazing tailgating sights and sounds (and tastes), and maybe find yourself in position to watch the Gorilla Walk that takes place 80 minutes before kickoff when the players, coaches, band, and special guests make their way into the stadium.
Gameday clothing should always be team appropriate, and in the case of Pitt State, that means donning scarlet and gold emblazoned with the biggest Gorilla you can find. This gives the small stadium a unique look with all the fans in their matching clothing, creating an incredible atmosphere. Match your clothing to the weather, with t-shirts and shorts the go-to early in the season and layers (a hoodie or jacket is a must) as the season draws to a close.
If you are staying on site, then having plenty of Pitt State gear around the campsite and tailgate can personalize your spot. Have a grill with you so you can hold your own in the cooking department. Bring out Pitt State lawn chairs, table cloths, and yard games to complete your tailgate experience. Look for Pittsburg State University favorites online or at the supercenters around the city.
Taking basic medical supplies in the RV is essential, especially if you plan on exploring in the Ozarks before or after the game. Make sure to have pain relievers, band-aids, and other supplies. Sunscreen in the summer is also non-negotiable, while bug spray is important if you are intending on hanging out by the camper at night in this part of the world. Always remember to hydrate properly with a big day of football ahead.
Pitt State is a school that prides itself on its tailgating tradition, so it is important to come both hungry and prepared. Alcohol is allowed in the tailgating area, although it must be put away at kickoff, and keeping glass containers inside the RV is also required.
Familiar smells you might encounter here are ribs and other forms of BBQ, with fans having smoked their meat for days in preparation for game day. Try your hand at BBQ in a place where tips will come from other fans, or keep it simple and bring some sides to take with you and set out to make some new friends!
Pittsburg, Kansas is not a big town, but the dining options here are plentiful if you want to leave the RV and the grill behind to go out for a taste of the local cuisine. Steak houses and BBQ may be the more common choices you have, but there are several fantastic Mexican restaurants within walking distance of Gorilla Stadium, too. Expect good, homely food at excellent prices.
Crawford Smith Stadium is a great place to get your fan gear on game day or if you didn't find your choice before the trip. Food offerings at the stadium are basic but good if you need to get something to eat during an event. Food may also be outside the stadium in the tailgating areas for some events, so you may want to eat your fill before kickoff.
All guests at Gorilla Stadium will be subject to a security screening before entering. This will mean a mandatory bag inspection and could involve a pat-down or wand-check by the security staff. In recent years, bags have needed to be smaller than 18.5" x 10" x 16" to be allowed into the stadium, with coolers and outside food on the prohibited item list. Fans are not be allowed to re-enter if you have to leave the stadium.
Weather in this region can be turbulent during football season. Be sure to check a weather app before you go, knowing that the forecast can change drastically in the hours before kickoff. In the summer and early fall, the heat can be brutal, so be sure to bring sunscreen and a ball cap. Kansas is in tornado country, so note where your nearest shelter is should a storm approach.
When at the game, Pitt State University will have medical staff on-site and there is a First Aid Station located within Gorilla Village that opens two hours prior to kickoff to treat any tailgating mishaps. Pittsburg also has the major hospital in the region within city limits, so if any major medical emergency happens the treatment area is just a short drive away.