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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
The dully-named Athletics-Recreation Center (or the "ARC") has served as the home of Valparaiso basketball since 1984. It is an intimate 5,000-seat arena consisting mostly of bleacher seats.
While there is nothing remarkable about the facility, it does have one important thing going for it- it is located in the great basketball state of Indiana.
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 ARC has two concession stands, both with few options, but affordable nonetheless. Pizza and soda each go for $2. The pizza is well worth the price and the soda (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Gatorade, and Mountain Dew) comes in the original plastic 20 ounce container.
I would advise grabbing a bite to eat in downtown Valparaiso if you want something more substantial, otherwise, a slice of pizza will do nicely.
More historical than the ARC, is the former home of the team, the Hilltop Gym. It is accessible during games and includes the retired numbers of, most notably, Bryce Drew, hero of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. Larry Bird also once played a collegiate game in this tiny gym, so you may want to at least peek your head inside.
I was present for a game against a bad UIC team, and the place was about half full. It was far from being noisy, but I did appreciate that they had a 12-member pep band, and a fairly raucous student section.
Valparaiso is a nice little college town, and there are bars and restaurants within a reasonable walking distance of the game. I chose to drive on this cold night, but on foot it's probably a 20 minute walk from downtown. There are numerous choices including familiar names like Buffalo Wild Wings.
I stopped into Pikk's Tavern. They describe themselves in three words: Steaks. Wine. Friends. Good things in my book. Unfortunately, I had none of those things as I was by myself, stuck with beer, and stayed on the appetizer menu. The good news is that the steaks I saw looked good from a distance, and I really enjoyed my food.
I tried the Scotch Egg, and left wondering why I don't have these things for breakfast more often. In case you don't know, a scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg, encased in sausage and then baked. It's about the size of your closed fist. They also have a good beer selection, and very friendly service.
My second stop was the Franklin House Bar. This was a more typical sports bar, with four big screens in the main bar, and plenty of dudes, sitting around drinking. They do have a nice beer selection and a decent Reuben sandwich.
On the down side, the bar is quite smoky, but if you don't mind that, this could be a good place to spend some time and have a few beers.
Compared to other Indiana basketball experiences, I was a little disappointed with the fans at Valparaiso. That's not to say they were disinterested, just lacked that magic that I felt at Butler and Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
The student section was properly showing homage to Homer Drew, the head basketball coach for more than 2 decades. Most donned shirts that read, "Drew's Crew," and a few fans wore Homer Simpson masks that looked to be incredibly hot.
I found parking to be a snap, parking on Brown Street about 2 blocks from the arena, only about 15 minutes before the tipoff. I had heard bad things about the ability to park at Valpo, but found that not to be an issue in the town or at the game.
There are not too many restrooms, so if you go when there's a packed house, it may be beneficial for you to sneak away from your seat a minute or so before the halftime buzzer sounds.
I paid $15 total online the day of the game (that included delivery fee and ordering fee). My seat was in the upper mezzanine. A word of warning, if your seat is too low in this section, you will be sitting behind the railing and your view will be obstructed. If you sit too high, then the banners will slightly obstruct your view, and you won't be able to see the scoreboard.
My advice would be to either spring for a lower level seat, or sit somewhere between rows DD and KK. You do get good value on the pizza and the parking, but overall, I think $15 is pushing the limit of what I would pay to experience this venue again.
One bonus point is attributable to head coach Homer Drew, who went out of his way to shake the hand of the singer of the National Anthem- a very classy move.
I also reward an extra point to the three guys with the Homer Simpson masks on because I just can't see how they kept those sweaty things on the whole game.
I generally do not pass up an opportunity to see college basketball played in the state of Indiana, and would probably return to Valpo for a game against a better opponent. I would also love to see them rename the facility or the floor itself after Homer Drew for his long service to the university, not to mention for being half responsible for the birth of Bryce Drew, the school's best known player.
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