A number of household names in the sports world were born in 1981. Eli Manning, Troy Polamalu, Justin Morneau, Josh Hamilton, Jake Peavy, Carl Crawford, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Willis McGahee and Vince Wilfork are just a few of the names who share that birth year. It is a common thought among many that once an athlete passes the age of thirty, their career is on the decline. This, however, is not always the case.
Wofford College's Benjamin Johnson Arena also enjoyed its birth as a replacement for Andrews Field House in 1981, and any notion that this facility is on the decline would be greatly exaggerated. Though Division I basketball has only been played in the facility since 1997, the Terriers have certainly enjoyed their share of winning basketball on the parquet floor in Spartanburg. Wofford made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, winning the Southern Conference championship in both years. Wofford's enrollment may be small (slightly greater than 1,500 students are enrolled), but their aspirations for basketball success are quite the opposite.
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".
There are two concession stands within the arena itself, respectively serving the east and west concourses. The offerings are about what one would expect, with hot dogs ($2), slices of Papa John's pizza ($3), Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($4) and soft pretzels ($2) as the hot items. Coca-Cola is the bottler for the arena, with bottled soda and water ($2.50) available at both stands. Popcorn ($2), king-size candy ($2) and Doritos ($1) round out the snack selections. There is also a shaved ice stand on the west concourse, with a number of available flavors. A small shaved ice is $2, with the large priced at $3. Be careful to eat early, though, as the stand on the east concourse closed just after the second half began on the night I visited. This may cause you to be away from the action a bit longer than anticipated.
As Benjamin Johnson Arena is connected to Wofford's Campus Life Building, it may be worth a visit to the food court portion of the building for a snack or beverage. The food court features a coffee shop, Chick-fil-A Express and grill. The grill offers cheeseburgers, Philly cheesesteaks, turkey burgers and other sandwiches and snacks. There is also a room in the corner with pool tables, and there is a drink machine next to the pool tables. Since these choices are not technically part of the arena concession offerings, they are not graded as such, but you may find more choice and lower prices (in some cases) by visiting the food court.
Benjamin Johnson Arena's layout, while a bit unusual -- we will discuss this later in the review -- provides an interesting benefit. There is no end zone seating in the arena, meaning every seat will place you between the baskets. Each concourse features two seating levels. Reserved chair-back seating accounts for the first few rows of seats from the floor, with general admission bleachers filling in the remainder of the seating. The seating does not extend too far above the floor, meaning almost every seat in the arena is a good seat. Some of the bleacher seating may be slightly obscured by the camera positions for a televised game, but there is also standing room above the top row of seats. This is a popular choice for some who prefer to avoid bleacher seating.
Each concourse features a scoreboard along the wall. The scoreboards feature just the basic score/foul information, with no video or added statistical touches. The scoreboards are relatively small and can be a bit tough to see, depending on your location in the arena. Wofford's TerrierVision staff is present at each game to capture the game's events, and a center-hung scoreboard or some type of video capability would be a nice touch. This obviously would require a large expenditure by the college, though, and the multi-function nature of the arena may prevent this from being a feasible addition.
The Terriers' mascot, Boss, plays a large role in the festivities at a Wofford game. He wanders through the stands during the game to high-five fans and say hello to the kids, who all seem to love him. He also participates in some of the cheers and promotions throughout the game, including the Papa John's "Minute to Win It" contest. This promotion involves a fan trying to find a free pizza coupon among 20-plus empty pizza boxes, with Boss being tasked to hold the empty boxes. This may seem to be a less-than-glamorous job, but Boss handles it with great skill and the same expression he always displays.
The Wofford pep band occupies a corner of the bleachers behind the Wofford bench. They are a relatively small group, but are also quite spirited. The band features a fairly sizeable set list, but could stand to be utilized even further.
As we discussed in our review of Wofford's football facility, Gibbs Stadium, Wofford is not necessarily in the most walkable section of Spartanburg, but this does not mean there are no choices available to you. The usual chain fare can be found on the streets surrounding the campus, but if you have a "when in Rome" -- or South Carolina -- spirit, several choices are just a short drive away.
Meat-and-threes (Wade's), fine steakhouses (Peddler), drive-ins (the Beacon, which is a staple in the South Carolina Upstate and nationwide) and almost any other choice you may prefer can all be found within a 5-10 minute drive of the campus. There are three college campuses within a short distance of each other (USC Upstate, Converse and Wofford), so if you wish to see a game, take a walk or just hang around college students, plenty of possibilities exist to do just that. The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium is also a short walk from your parking spot on campus. The auditorium commonly hosts trade shows, concerts and other large events.
Benjamin Johnson Arena only seats 3,500 fans, which makes for a somewhat intimate atmosphere. The night I attended did not feature a sellout crowd, but the fans in attendance were certainly vocal from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Even if there is not a fan in every seat, the arena gets quite loud, especially when the hometown Terriers are notching a victory. The student section is a bit smaller than most schools -- mostly due to the smaller enrollment figure -- but the locals do their part to make up for the lack of a sizeable student contingent. It is not uncommon to see fans covering their face after a bad play or jumping up and down after a great play. Fans certainly love their Terriers, and it shows.
One disappointing fan-related item took place on the night I visited. A group of elementary school children participated in a skills display at halftime of the game, and the school was honored by the college. Unfortunately, once the children finished performing at the half, a large majority of the parents and children departed. As this was a weekend game, it was disappointing to see the families filing out of the arena. It would have been nice to see them stay for the entire contest and cheer for the Terriers in the second half the way they did before halftime.
Fans looking to pay a visit to Wofford via air will likely find it easiest to travel through Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP). The airport is located in suburban Greer, approximately 15-20 minutes from the campus. A number of major airlines fly into Greenville-Spartanburg, making travel relatively easy. Charlotte International Airport (CLT) is also an option, as it is approximately 65 miles away via Interstate 85. Wofford is accessible via a number of surface streets, including South Carolina Highway 9, US Highways 176 and 221 and Interstates 85, 85 Business and 585.
Benjamin Johnson Arena is in a slightly different area of campus than Gibbs Stadium, which actually makes access a bit easier. The facility is essentially at the intersection of Cummings Street and Evins Street on the Wofford campus. If you are programming your GPS to reach the arena, it is recommended to look for the intersection of Cummings and Evins, or for the Campus Life Building on Wofford's campus. There is a large lot (the Verandah Lot) just outside the arena, and parking is free for Terrier home games. This lot quickly fills, though, and you may find it more convenient to park in the grass and gravel lots near the Cummings/Evins intersection or elsewhere on campus. The walk is manageable from wherever you park.
Once you arrive at the arena, things get a bit confusing. There is an entrance door to the left as you approach which is clearly marked with a "Tickets" sign. There is a kiosk just inside the entrance at which tickets are purchased, and this can cause lines to build just inside the entry door. The entrance to the west concourse is straight ahead from the arena entrance and ticket station. If your seats are in the east concourse, though, you will proceed down a hallway, through an art gallery and past both concession stands to the concourse entrance. The hallway is a bit narrow in places, which can cause traffic concerns. Furman's Timmons Arena has a similar setup with separate seating sections and no concourse to connect the two, but Furman does offer the possibility of walking on the floor.
The restroom facilities are located in the hallway between the concourses. Though you have no way of seeing what is taking place in the game because of the art gallery and arena wall, the restrooms are at least not that far from your seat. The facilities are clean, neat and appropriately-equipped for a normal crowd at a Wofford game.
Pricing at a Wofford game is comparable to many of the school's Southern Conference peers. Tickets are $10 for general admission or $12 for reserved seating. A word to the wise -- ticket purchases at the ticket station are cash-only. For those who do not tend to carry a lot of cash, plan to hit an ATM before you hit the parking lot or purchase your tickets through the school's website. The ability to take credit or debit cards at the various stands would be a nice touch, particularly for a school competing at this level.
Using the standard test, a general admission ticket, hot dog, soda, parking and a program at a Terrier game totals $14.50. Parking and programs are free (more on the programs in a bit). This allows a family of four to visit a Wofford game for $58, which is great value for a team that has become accustomed to playing postseason basketball.
As we just mentioned, programs are free at Wofford games. These programs are a 45-page guide to Wofford's men's and women's basketball programs, facilities, conference and administration. Coupons for several local establishments can also be found in these programs. For those unfamiliar with the college or its basketball programs, a lot of helpful information can be found within the pages of this publication. It is surprising that this level of detail is provided for free. These programs can be found on tables at the entrance to both concourses, as well as posters and pocket schedules for other Wofford sports.
Wofford logo merchandise can be purchased just inside the entrance to the east concourse. An impressive array of shirts, hats and other logo wear is on display, with plenty of room to maneuver around and shop for the perfect item. Much like the concession stand on the east side, however, the merchandise workers quickly began tearing down the location just after the start of the second half, so if you want Terrier gear, be sure to make your purchase early in the game.
Banners for the retired numbers of three players hang above the seating on the west concourse. Donnie Fowler (number 13, 1953-57), James "Daddy" Neal (number 17, 1949-53) and James Blair (number 44, 1979-83) are the men for whom the retired jerseys reside in the rafters. Fowler enjoyed a career in state and national politics after his time at Wofford, and is one of many Wofford graduates to have risen to national prominence.
Wofford's championship history is also honored on the east concourse, with banners commemorating the school's two Southern Conference championships and NCAA tournament bids hanging alongside the retired numbers. An impressive display of trophy cases accompanies the banners, with a number of medals, jerseys and other artifacts lining the shelves. For those fans who are history buffs, this provides a rather interesting look into the rather impressive past enjoyed by the college's athletic programs.
Finally, we briefly mentioned the Campus Life Building earlier in this review. This is a nice touch not available in many arenas. The building contains a lounge area, flat-screen televisions mounted on the wall and the aforementioned grill, Chick-fil-A and coffee shop. There are public-use computers in the front and rear of the building, allowing visitors to surf the web and take care of business or personal pursuits. A room with pool tables is also near the front of the building. This is a great place for students to gather, allowing for study and leisure time. The area is also open to non-students, so it is worth a visit if you attend a game at Benjamin Johnson Arena.
Those outside the Upstate region of South Carolina may not be too familiar with Wofford College, but there is a lot to like about this Hub City school. Whether you prefer Wofford's academic or athletic accolades, there are certainly plenty to offer in either category. Wofford seems to be a home of potential waiting to be tapped, and this is certainly the case in Benjamin Johnson Arena.
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