A walk across the campus at Elon University produces an interesting mix of the old and the new. One side of the campus shows you how Elon College appeared years ago – the iconic Fonville Fountain in front of the Alamance Building, the Sloan, Virginia and West residence halls and many other buildings which have served as the foundation of academic and social life for decades. The other side of the campus features many of the improvements and additions that have accompanied the school's evolution into what is now Elon University. The Moseley Center, Rhodes Stadium and the Danieley Center, among others, help demonstrate Elon's growth into their current university community.
One of the bridges between the university's past and present can be found just across Haggard Avenue from the “older” side of campus. Alumni Gym originally opened its doors in 1949, and has been the home of Elon basketball through their tenure in the NAIA, NCAA Division II and now NCAA Division I. Though the building has seen a number of upgrades to help modernize its appearance and gameday experience, the soul from sixty-plus years ago still remains. Alumni Gym is neither the latest nor greatest facility, but it, much like the Phoenix basketball program, delivers a solid performance.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food and drinks at Elon games are not among the most memorable and unique you will ever experience, but they are certainly effective in halting any cravings you may encounter while at a game. Cheese or pepperoni pizza, hot dogs, nachos and popcorn are all priced at $3. Pretzels ($2), chips ($1) and candy ($1) round out the food selections.
Coca-Cola serves as the campus' bottler. Sodas, bottled water and Powerade are all available for $3.
Alumni Gym shows its age a bit - in a good way, granted - in its layout. There is a bit of a theater feel to the gym, and though there are only two levels in the building, the second level has a mezzanine-type appearance. The upper level is accessed via a staircase that is a bit tough to find if you are not familiar with the building's layout (look to the right as you enter the gym to find the staircase). Though every seat is close to the action, this does not mean you will have a great seat everywhere in the building.
Because of the building's age, there are some considerable sight line issues throughout, particularly on the upper level. The seats are very comfortable, but those seats in the front row of the second deck will be obstructed by the safety railing, as well as the occasional fans walking along the concourse. There are four video board/scoreboard structures in the upper level, with one in each corner. There are seats near - and behind - the scoreboards, which can cause some visibility concerns. If you choose seats in this section, sit between the baskets and a few rows up. This will help you escape the issues in the front row and behind the baskets.
Elon's band can be found in the southwest corner of the gym, and though this is not the optimal placement, they make the best of their allotted space. The group often plays the fight song, with lyrical accompaniment on the video boards. Even if you did not attend Elon, you may not need the "cheat sheet" on the board, as the students sing along each time it plays. The band could arguably be utilized even more to help add to the already raucous atmosphere.
The requisite grouping of cheerleaders and a dance team help fill some of the breaks in the action by performing routines along with the band or recorded music. The cheerleaders also participate in some of the promotions, such as the t-shirt toss and "pizza scream". There is also a Phoenix mascot who walks through the crowd and interacts with the fans through the game, though the students called him "Pterodactyl" on several occasions. His interaction with the students seemed playful enough, though he appeared to get a little annoyed with the new name after a while.
Though on the outskirts of Burlington and a half-hour or so east of Greensboro, Elon proper is a quite small town. The size of the town reduces the necessity to drive, at least in the heart of the town and campus. Shops, a bookstore and a church are all within steps of Alumni Gym, and a relaxing pond rests just outside the Center for the Arts, between the gym and the rest of Elon's athletic facilities.
Many of the dining and shopping options are several miles from campus and near North Carolina Interstate 85/40. Exits 140 (University Drive) and 141 (Huffman Mill Road) feature big box stores, a movie theater and dining options to satisfy any palate. If you don't want to - or can't - venture away from campus, Town Table is a great option within walking distance of the campus. Town Table offers a number of food and beer choices, as well as serving as the host for the weekly Elon basketball radio show.
Elon may have a small facility, but their recent success has afforded them the luxury of having that facility filled to the rafters every time they take the floor. There is quite the interesting mix of fans at a Phoenix contest. There are the students - and there are a LOT of students at Elon games, which we will discuss shortly - and the "lifers" who have been Elon fans through the various iterations of the program and Alumni Gym. No matter the age of the fans or their history with the program, they get loud before the game even starts, and that noise continues until the final buzzer.
As for the students in attendance, they are front and center, just across the floor from the bleachers. They stand and make noise from beginning to end, giving Elon a tremendous home-court advantage. A word to the wise, however; if you are easily offended by chants from college students, it may be better for you to sit as far away from the students as you can, as the group engages in a number of "adults-only" chants. On the night I visited, Elon played local rival UNCG, whose school is a half-hour away. A number of UNCG students made the trip, and drew chants such as "Sit down, shut up!", among others not suitable to be reprinted. The UNCG players and fans took their share of abuse all night, as did the referees. Most of the chants and commentary leaned more toward the funny side than the offensive, but choose your seats according to your personal preference.
Elon is approximately 10-15 minutes from Interstates 85/40, depending on traffic. Most of the access roads to the university have a number of stop lights, so this may slow your drive into town. If you choose to fly to see a Phoenix game, Greensboro (GSO) or Raleigh-Durham (RDU) are the best options for incoming airports. Both airports are less than an hour from the campus, so it pays to check fares and availability.
Parking is free on the Elon campus, which is always a helpful touch. It is recommended to turn left at the stop light on Haggard Avenue, just past the main part of campus. Visitor parking will be just ahead on the left, and there is a large lot suitable for any basketball crowd. There is a short walk through the heart of campus to reach the Koury Center (in which Alumni Gym is located) from this parking lot.
As mentioned earlier, the concourse layout is a bit unusual, as a concourse rings the upper level. This may make travel a bit complicated, as traffic tends to back up approaching the stairwell and around the main entrance doors, where the stairwell ends. The concession stand is just outside the gym, in the building's lobby. The restroom facilities are ample, and there are not any real issues with lines.
Tickets to an Elon game are very fairly priced, with adult tickets priced at $12 and youth (12 and under) at $5. This puts Elon basketball in line with many of their contemporaries in the Southern Conference. Tickets can be purchased online or in the lobby of the Koury Center on the day of the game.
The lone unfortunate byproduct of Elon's basketball success is that more and more fans are starting to come to Phoenix games. This resulted in the sale of standing room only tickets on the night I attended in early 2013, with a limited amount of these tickets going on sale an hour before the game's designated start time. The process was a bit disorganized, however, with fans cutting in line and considerable confusion between whether to use the line for standing room only tickets or the will-call line for ticket pickup. It should also be noted that there was no discount for standing room only tickets. Though I saw a number of fans who bought standing room tickets eventually get to sit down, whether in a seat upstairs or on a small set of bleachers in the corner of the gym, it may be better for those who are not guaranteed a seat to get a bit of a price break.
A game ticket, a hot dog, a soda, parking and a program total $18 per adult, which makes for a good value. Elon is continuing their ascent to a permanent spot atop their division in the Southern Conference, and no matter their opponent, the Phoenix will assuredly present an entertaining product.
Free programs are available at the ticket table in the Koury Center lobby. These are not the most in-depth publications, but they do provide rosters for Elon and their opponent, along with other basic information about the Phoenix. This does keep fans from having to reach for their phone to see the rosters for both teams.
The retired numbers for former Elon greats Jesse Branson and Tommy Cole hang in the southwest and southeast corners of Alumni Gym. Branson and Cole are the top two scorers in Elon basketball history. One would expect more jerseys will accompany these two in the rafters in short order, particularly if Elon's recent success continues.
Elon basketball also features another famous figure. Dr. Earl Danieley attends Phoenix home games, waving his famous rally towel. The students and fans start a "Doc-tor Dan-iel-ey!" chant, at which time he rises from his seat, to a thundering cheer from the crowd. The school gave rally towels to the fans in attendance on the night I visited, which is a great way to honor the school's former president and arguably most legendary face.
All Phoenix games are carried on WPCM 920 AM in Burlington. Elon graduate Taylor Durham is on the play-by-play call for each game. Taylor is quite talented in his own right, and his famous father (Woody Durham, long-time voice of the North Carolina Tar Heels) and brother (Wes Durham, voice of Georgia Tech sports and the Atlanta Falcons) join with Taylor to form a formidable broadcast family.
Finally, there is a plaque next to the gym entrance memorializing Elon graduates who lost their lives serving in the two World Wars. The plaque was provided by the graduating class of 1970. This is a nice nod to the history of the university, as well as the service of those who lost their lives.
Elon is a school with big dreams. This is evident in the words of their leadership, speaking of trips to the Sweet Sixteen and a packed gymnasium every night. There is further proof in their schedule, playing schools like Butler, South Carolina and Duke. Elon may eventually become a victim of their own success, however, as continued championship seasons may lead to a bigger and better facility. Of all the problems that may present themselves to Elon athletics, however, this may be one of the more welcome challenges they face. No matter the outcome, Alumni Gym will maintain its status as the birthplace of Elon basketball.
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