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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Constructed in 1976 by tax funding from Calcasieu Parish, Burton Coliseum has served as home to McNeese State Cowboy basketball since 1986. Though MSU basketball is the primary tenant, the Coliseum hosts many other events like the annual Southwest District Livestock and Rodeo, concerts, and conventions. The building footprint amasses 24,000 square feet with a seating capacity of 8,000 for basketball games. The roof stands 105 feet from the Coliseum floor.
In an area where football dominates the headlines, Cowboy basketball (or any other Louisiana basketball program) struggles to get a share of the spotlight. All McNeese State athletics programs, however, receive strong support from Southwest Louisiana, which is an amazing feat considering the strangle-hold LSU has on all things college athletics in Louisiana.
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 variety of concession options at Burton Coliseum is adequate and the pricing is more than fair. Major items include hamburgers ($3), hot dogs ($3), chopped beef sandwich ($3), Frito pie ($3), and nachos ($4). All snack items are just $1, with the exception of peanuts ($2), and include chips, candy, pickles, and popcorn. Drink options range from $2-$3 and feature Coca-Cola products.
I recommend the chopped beef, popcorn, and a soda. Concession stands are located on both the east and west sides of the main concourse. While there isn't a menu item which jumps out as unique, the fair pricing and acceptable variety makes the overall concession experience a highlight. It's always nice to be able to go back for seconds on popcorn and not feel like you'll go bankrupt in the process. Major credit cards are accepted.
What makes the atmosphere special at college basketball games is undoubtedly the involvement of the fans. Though this will be further discussed in the Fan section below, the crowds at Burton Coliseum are anything but engaged and without the spirit squads and pep band, the sound level would be much reduced. The venue size is well beyond what is needed to house the average, or even largest, of Cowboy basketball crowds. However, the average attendance is near the top of the Southland Conference each year, though that isn't as impressive when you review attendance figures around the conference (excluding Oral Roberts and Lamar).
Cowboy basketball at the Burton Coliseum features the usual spirit components expected at a small college venue. A pep band subset of the Cowboy Marching Band is located just beyond the north end line. Personally, I prefer when the band plays more than the arena sound system. With that said, this is certainly a strength for the Burton Coliseum with the pep band playing throughout the game breaks.
One of the most unique traditions at McNeese State athletic events is the playing of Jolie Blonde. As the band plays, fans sway side-to-side clapping above their heads at the end of each sway.
In addition to the pep band, there are two sets of spirit teams which include the McNeese State cheerleaders and Cowgirl Kickers dance squad. The Kickers are a robust group of dance squad members, a sight which is pretty neat to see fill the field at Cowboy Stadium for McNeese football games. Not quite as many Kickers are on hand for basketball games, but the Cowgirl Kicker showing is still pretty impressive. Rowdy, the Cowboy mascot, is interactive moving from section to section to engage fans.
The seating area inside Burton is bowl shaped with the east and west side sections rising high and gradually lowering on the north and south sides. There are two levels of seating on both the east and west sides. Considering the large size of the multi-purpose facility, there's plenty of vacant floor space on both the north and south sides of the playing surface.
Just beyond the north/south empty spaces you'll find the scoreboards installed on the wall above the seating areas. A sound system hangs above center court. There're no video boards located inside the Coliseum.
Several banners hang from the rafters above both the north and south end lines. Banners include the retired jersey of undoubtedly the most famous McNeese State basketball player, Joe Dumars, and several Southland Conference championship banners as well as banners celebrating multiple NIT appearances. Located in the west side concourse is the McNeese State Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Burton Coliseum is located just south of the McNeese State University campus in the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Though the area immediately around the arena is sparse, you'll find great Cajun food and several attractions in downtown Lake Charles. While in town, make sure you grab lunch (and a beer or two) at Darrell's. It's hard to find a quality po-boy outside New Orleans, but Darrell's comes through with their "Darrell's Special" which includes ham, turkey, and roast beef smothered in a roast beef gravy. The place is a bit of a dive and is borderline kid friendly. It's a great place to watch some out-of-town basketball while drinking an Abita Beer before tip-off.
Just as difficult to find outside of New Orleans is quality Cajun seafood. Lake Charles delivers again with Steamboat Bill's. I recommend eating at the location just off I-10 on Lakeshore Drive (there's two locations in town) for dinner after the game. You really can't go wrong here, but a few options to consider are the boiled crawfish or the fried seafood platter.
Without a doubt, a strength of the Lake Charles area is the casino industry. With casino gambling outlawed in Texas, you'll find plenty of east Texas residents making the two and a half hour trek over to Lake Charles for a good time. Two casinos in particular dominate the skyline: the Isle of Capri and L'Auberge du Lac. If you time your visit right, you can catch the Mardi Gras season and a parade or two while in town. Both the L'Auberge and Isle of Capri casinos are also a great place to stay while in town as each also offer hotel services.
The fan support for McNeese State basketball is lacking. Though attendance is pretty strong compared to other Southland Conference programs, college basketball is just not a strong suit of the Louisiana sports scene. When the Cowboys are challenging for the conference title, attendance is pretty strong. When the team is average, fan support nearly disappears. The passion for McNeese State athletics supporters is no doubt Cowboy football. All other sports take a backseat.
If you're heading from either west or east into Lake Charles, I-10 will be a straight shot for drivers. If you're flying in, the Lake Charles Regional Airport is an option, but flights may be a little pricey considering the size of the airport. As you arrive in Lake Charles, Burton Coliseum will be located south of the McNeese State campus and directly across from the airport on Highway 385.
Plenty of parking is located around the Coliseum and it's free. As you make your way to the arena, it's fairly confusing to figure out where you should enter as there's no clear main entrance point.
Once inside, if you're not carefully looking for the ticket booth, you'll likely find yourself in the main concourse without anyone stopping you to check for a ticket. Some better signage and crowd flow could certainly be utilized both outside and immediately inside the Coliseum. Restrooms and concession stands can be accessed easily and are without lines.
General admission to Cowboy basketball games starts at $5. You really can't beat that price for NCAA Division I basketball. Combine that with free parking and very fairly priced concessions and the return on investment is high. The atmosphere and quality of on-court product are anything but elite, but you definitely get every dollar's worth for just $5.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For McNeese State basketball at Burton Coliseum, be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
• The casino industry in Lake Charles is an experience in itself, whether or not you're a fan of gambling.
• You can't miss out on the Cajun food while in town. Though it's not New Orleans, it's the next best thing.
• The McNeese Rodeo Hall of Fame is a pretty neat visit inside the Coliseum. Outside of McNeese State football, the Rodeo is likely the next biggest sports attraction.
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119 W College St
Lake Charles, LA 70605
777 Ave Lauberge
Lake Charles, LA 70601
100 Westlake Ave
Westlake, LA 70669
777 Ave Lauberge
Lake Charles, LA 70601
100 Westlake Ave
Westlake, LA 70669