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Official Review by Ed Pelle, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
At an elevation of 5,846 feet above sea level, the Thunderbirds occupy a perch in Cedar City, Utah that is significantly higher than most of the other schools that play in the Big Sky Conference. Only nearby neighbor Northern Arizona is higher at an elevation of 6,910 feet above sea level.
Cedar City is located 250 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah and 180 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. It was originally settled by Mormon pioneers and to this day many Mormons still occupy this area.
Southern Utah transitioned to NCAA Division I in 1988 and soon became a charter member of the now defunct American West Conference. In 1997 they were accepted into the Summit League which was known as the Mid-Continent Conference at that time. Following this period, in 2012 they were fully accepted as a Big Sky Conference member.
The Thunderbirds have qualified for one NCAA Men's Basketball tournament in 2001.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is a small concession stand near the ticket window. Here you can buy some basic stadium food items; candy ($3.50), popcorn ($3.50), hot dog ($3.75), Polish dog ($3.75), pizza ($3.50), pretzel (2.50), and nachos ($3.25). Coca-Cola products are served here and soda comes in three sizes ($2.75, $3, and $3.25). It should be noted that some members of the Mormon community do not consume caffeine at all and that indulging in those items publicly might be slightly frowned upon as are smoking and use of alcohol.
Centrum Arena is connected to a larger structure that houses several classrooms and other school areas called the Sharwan Smith Student Center. There are also several classrooms positioned around the actual arena portion of the building.
There are two video screens placed over the midcourt areas of the arena that show various sketches before and throughout the game that are very well produced. These productions are far better than what you would normally expect from a mid-major basketball program, and really add something to the game experience.
Thunderbird mascot, Thor, does his best to get the crowd fired up, but the problem seems to be with the crowd itself. I'm not sure what more the university can do to improve the quality of game experience because there seems to be a sincere attempt by the athletic department to provide the best environment possible, but there isn't much in the way of crowd support.
Cedar City is best known as a base camp for expeditions into the national parks of Southern Utah or weekend getaways to the nearby ski resorts. Since tourism is a significant part of the local economy they are a bit more tolerant to outsiders than other parts of Utah. The town is very clean and offers some really scenic views. The only thing missing is any kind of adult themed fun, of course if you really need this sort of thing you are only about a 2 hour drive from Sin City itself.
Finding a good local sports bar in this small town is not an easy task though. There is one place I can recommend for postgame libations, and that is Toadz Nightclub and Bar. There are several televisions with sports programming located around the bar area and they serve a wide variety of hot food. Some of these items on the menu are; burgers ($5.95), club sandwich ($7.95), buffalo chicken sandwich ($7.95), beer battered fish and fries ($7.95), fish tacos ($7.95), Malibu chicken ($9.95) and chicken wings ($7.95).
This school tends to draw much better for football events than other sports and the fans that do show up tend to be, shall we say; "very polite". There is a student section that occupies the northwest corner of the arena but only a few rows of students show up to support the team. The rest of the fans tend to spread out across the arena since the games are usually not filled close to capacity in the 5,300 seat arena.
Getting to the Centrum Arena is not very difficult from Interstate 15. The campus is only a few blocks from exit 59. There is also a small regional airport that receives three flights a day from Salt Lake City. During winter months Cedar City receives around 49 inches of snow so planning ahead to account for weather is a wise idea. Some of the mountains to the east get 12 feet of snow or more per season.
There is free and plentiful parking in the area near the arena on game days.
At a price of $10 for tickets you really can't go wrong here and the concessions are reasonably priced as well. These prices are slightly lower than the other schools in the Big Sky Conference. With free parking thrown in, you have a very affordable opportunity to see Division I college basketball.
I saw something here I have not encountered anywhere else on my journeys and I have to mention. In the restrooms they have a newspaper placed above the urinals called T-Bird Toilet Times with various blurbs about the goings on at the school. It is placed in a plastic case and screwed into the wall. Will this be the next big trend in sports arena advertising?
I was pleasantly surprised at this stop in the Big Sky Conference's men's basketball even though I was starting to feel a little unpleasantness from the sudden jump in altitude as I drove south on Interstate 15. It's worth the trip just to visit beautiful Cedar City.
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