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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
To say that Cameron Hall is a tough place for opponents to play is an understatement. You can start by looking at the winning percentage of VMI in the building, well over 70% of home games are won by the Keydets. The reason for that success has to be largely due to the student section, one of the most animated and menacing in all of college basketball. Everything that comes out of their mouth is not exactly “clean,” but it is difficult to question their loyalty or enthusiasm for their squad.
Cameron Hall looks like a pretty bland square building, and when you enter the seating area, you aren’t wowed by anything you see there either. Chairback seats extend 20 rows up on each side of the court. However, as the students file in to their seats, the building becomes more and more electric, and you can expect that energy to continue until the final buzzer.
The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a unique school in the scope of college basketball. Students who attend this public university are required to join the ROTC, and many choose to pursue military careers in any one of the four branches of the United States military. However, service in the military is not required after graduation. The school focuses on discipline and many of the majors and degrees are aimed toward engineering and mathematics. However, English, social science, arts, and humanities are also offered.
If you expect the students to be well behaved and respectful while attending a VMI basketball game, then you will quickly reverse that expectation. This group of students, at least while inside Cameron Hall, are some of the most foul-mouthed and relentless fans in all of college basketball. If you have thick skin and are not easily offended, then this will likely be a big part of the entertainment value. If you are easily offended, then I would suggest sitting as far away from the student section as possible.
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".
As you walk the stark white hallways that run around the seating area, you will likely be led by your nose and that smell of freshly popped popcorn. Unfortunately, there isn't that much more than the salty treat. The complete menu consists of hot dog ($3.50), pizza ($3), pretzel ($2), popcorn ($2), candy ($2), Miss Vickie's Kettle Chips ($1.50), and Pepsi products in 20-ounce plastic bottles ($2). It will get you through the game, but if you're hungry, then you would be better served to try one of the downtown eateries before or after the game.
There is nothing spectacular about the game day presentation. The pep band leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part you can expect 1980's rock anthems to be played during media timeouts and other breaks. However, that clean presentation really keeps the focus on the basketball. There's no huge center-hung scoreboard to interfere, only two very basic scoreboards at each end of the court.
If you're a student, then you have your work cut out for you. Standing and yelling for an entire game is no easy feat. If you're sitting in with the other fans and alumni, then you can expect a relatively comfortable viewing experience. There's above average legroom in your seat, and good pitch between rows to ensure no one is blocking your view.
Because the seats are in straight rows, you'll want to be sure that you are in one of the middle sections so you don't have to sit tilted in your seat the whole game. Section 3 would be my recommendation so you are right at center court, and also have a good view of the animated student section. If you would prefer, then section 12 will put you at center court behind the students and facing the team benches.
Another key contributor to the fun experience of attending a VMI game is the style of basketball which is typically played by the Keydets. VMI led the nation in scoring per game for five consecutive seasons beginning with the 2006-2007 campaign. In 2011-2012, they finished only 8th in the nation at 79.7 points per game. You are likely to see a high scoring affair when you see a game at Cameron Hall.
Finally, the antics of the VMI mascot, "Moe," an animated kangaroo, keeps the fans and kids entertained. He'll interact with the referees and anyone else, including the person responsible for wiping the floor during timeouts during my most recent visit. He cajoled her until she finally began dancing with him, to the crowd's delight.
To use the term "quaint" to describe downtown Lexington is probably a bit of a cliché, but it does seem to fit this town with a population of about 7,000. The hilly brick sidewalks of Main Street are charming, and it's just a short walk down the hill to Cameron Hall. Street parking is free for two hour periods, and unenforced after 6pm. You may just want to pick out a restaurant and walk to Cameron if the weather and your walking shoes are willing.
Variety along Main Street ranges from Greek to sushi to fine dining. I made a stop into the Bistro on Main Street, and it's a spot I can recommend. The have an interesting menu filled with southern and French-inspired dishes, or just have a seat at the bar and make some new friends.
If you want fine dining, then just off of Main Street you can stop in at the Red Hen, which is a wonderful restaurant serving "Shenandoah cuisine." Another option is Brix wine bar, serving various tapas sized dishes.
If you get in to town early enough, or will be spending the weekend, then be sure to stop in for some outstanding barbecue at Beame Up BBQ. They are only open until 4:30 or 5pm, so stop in early if you want some good 'cue. Beame Up BBQ is located a couple minutes from downtown by car.
History buffs will want to stop at the Stonewall Jackson House, located just off of Main Street. It is the only home ever owned by the Civil War General, and where he resided for the decade leading up to the American Civil War.
Also, of Civil War significance is the grave site of Confederate Army General Robert E Lee. His grave is located inside of Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University in Lexington.
Lexington is also the home of the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, which has exhibits that especially emphasize the role of Virginia during the bloody conflict.
Your individual experience with the fans at VMI will largely depend on how easily you are offended, and the content of their cheers, jeers, and chants is certainly rated R. Those of you going to a game with young children will want to sit in the opposite corner from the students. With that disclaimer in mind, I loved the energy that was generated by the students. They wrap around starting from behind the basket nearest the opponent's bench to the opposite side of the floor. Those along the sideline scream and bang on the metal railing with their school ring. Those under the mascot, smack the padded walls and lean out over to yell at referees and opposing players alike. Not only is this a difficult atmosphere for opposing players, but the neutral officials as well. I would think that Big South referees must look on the assignment of a game at VMI as one that they do not look forward to.
As far as the "clean" chants that I am willing to share on this site, the students liked to chant out "Tar-Heel-Re-Jects" during my visit as they played UNC-Asheville. There is also a fun tradition after three point baskets as the PA announcer and crowd have a call and answer that goes like this:
PA: "Three Pointer"
Crowd: "Three Pointer"
PA: "Okoye" (or whomever make the shot)
For a small venue, it can be a little bit of a hassle to get out of town after a game. As always, patience can be a real virtue. You may simply want to wait 15 minutes or so and just sit in the arena and relax before heading out to your car.
However, if you want to get moving as soon as possible, then try to park your car on the street pointed in the direction of downtown. You should be able to fairly simply nose out and be on your way. I would also suggest parking downtown and just walking to the game. Parking is free in a lot across the street from the arena, but it is fairly congested as you look to get out on your way.
Inside the arena, the concourse is reasonably sized, although will be a little bit elbow-to-elbow as you make your way out of the one main entrance. Restrooms are adequate.
To purchase VMI tickets in advance you have to go through the hassle of creating an account with "University Tickets" on the VMI website. It feels like an unnecessary pain, but the upside is that you can select your exact seat, which cost $12-$14 depending on how close to the court you want to be. The price is very reasonable given the great atmosphere at Cameron Hall.
When you factor in the free parking and reasonable, albeit unspectacular, concessions, then you are getting a fantastic value for your invested sports dollar.
Lexington is a neat small town, and well worth exploring. If you're coming for a game at VMI, be sure to allow yourself to visit some of the historic sites, and walk through the beautiful downtown area.
There is little question that the student section is the most energetic outside of some of the major schools, and they make this venue a very intimidating place to play.
I'll award an additional extra point for Moe the mascot, who performs at the level of an NBA counterpart.
Finally, one extra point for a couple of anecdotes that apply to my particular visit. The opponent was UNC-Asheville, whose starting guard is Keith Hornsby, son of well-known musician and singer Bruce Hornsby. During my visit Keith went to the free throw line and the students chanted, "Who's Your Daddy? [clap-clap-clapclapclap]." Bruce Hornsby, seated behind the Asheville bench, stood up, pointed to himself, and then saluted the students, something the VMI fans quite appreciated. This can go into the you-never-know-what-you're-going-to-see-at-a-sporting-event category.
I also had the opportunity to see the Navy Corps Drill Team perform at halftime. They threw and twirled 20 pound rifles affixed with bayonets in a dazzling display, which was also greatly appreciated by the crowd.
I had no pre-conceived notions of what to expect when I set off to Lexington, Virginia to see VMI play at Cameron Hall. So, my low expectations were greatly exceeded. I hope I have encouraged you to make a trip to VMI to see a game. If you live anywhere in the area, or are just passing through, then be sure to check the schedule and go see the Keydets. It is one of the truly great college basketball experiences that you will find in all of the NCAA.
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8 N Main St
Lexington, VA 24450
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Lexington, VA 24450
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Lexington, VA 24450
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