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Official Review by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The United States Military Academy at West Point stresses "Duty, Honor, Country" as remarkable young men and women go through the rigorous academic, military and physical process. The Academy participates in Division I athletics under the Army name and while the basketball team has seen two great coaches start here in the 1970s (Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski), success has been limited. With no NCAA Tournament appearances and 26 straight losing seasons, you won't exactly see top quality basketball at Christl Arena. But what will you see are Cadets who are top quality people and should be admired for what they take on when attending West Point. That in itself is worth coming out to the game.
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Only one food stand was operating in the central concourse for the game I attended and the options were quite limited. The only semi-fulfilling item was a hot dog ($3). Snack items like nachos ($3), a pretzel ($3), popcorn ($3.50), peanuts ($3), chips and candy made up the majority of the menu. Coke is the soft drink provider. Eating before or after the game at one of the restaurants along Main Street in nearby Highland Falls is probably the better option.
The inside of Christl Arena is straight-forward with a set of seating on each sideline. The sections extend upwards steeply, nearly to the ceiling. This leads to a view much less desirable at the top, than in the middle or bottom of the seating bowl. Chairback seats, give way to bleachers about halfway up. Behind the basket there are a few sets of bleachers before a wall abruptly ends the arena. The close-by walls and low ceiling help to increase the arena volume as the in-game sounds make the place louder than one would expect. This helps to mask the lack of atmosphere from the typically small crowds. Unfortunately, the game I attended was just after finals completed and nearly all of the Cadets left campus, so I wasn't able to get a gauge on student attendance/enthusiasm and whether or not there is a pep band.
Now there is one game a year that will generate an atmosphere worth seeing and that of course is the Navy game. The hardwood version of Army-Navy is certainly less celebrated than the football game, however Christl Arena is usually sold out and for one night it is loud and an exciting place to be.
West Point is located about 50 miles North of New York City, appropriately on a "West Point" in the Hudson River. It's a beautiful area with wooded hills that is scenic for both an early season game in the fall or for seeing a middle of the winter conference game after a fresh snowfall. Adjacent to Army and West Point is the small town of Highland Falls. Here is where you can learn about the Academy by checking out the free West Point Visitors Center. In addition to the displays in the Visitors Center, there are one and two hour tours ($12) that are available each day and I highly recommend going. Especially because it is the only way to visit the grounds. Right next to the Visitors Center, is the West Point Museum, a four-story building that has an impressive collection of weaponry.
With West Point only being accessible for fans attending the game, pre and post game food options are found in Highland Falls. There are some small local restaurants open along Main Street, including Schade's Restaurant which is almost diner-like in the amount of items available. Park Restaurant is another option that is right next door, while Tony's Pizzeria (also close by) is a local favorite.
Fans are casual here as most seem to just take the game in quietly with some scattered applause mostly after a score. Crowds at Army basketball games are quite small with paid attendance usually in the hundreds. Patriot League games see a bit more fan interest, but not much more. As mentioned before the only exception is the typically sold out Navy games. To those that do come, I'm sure it is difficult to watch a team have a losing season for 26 consecutive years. However, the athlete that is on the floor playing is quite different than most of the other NCAA teams and it is very easy to root for a team like Army.
The New York State Thruway (I-87) and the Palisades Parkway will bring you close to the area and then a few two-lane roads lead to West Point. Fans need to go through one of three gates to get onto the grounds and to the arena. Either the Stony Lonesome gate or the Thayer Gate will bring you where you need to go. I prefer Stony Lonesome because that gives you easiest access to the arena. Unfortunately, the Army Sports website gives you no information on parking or even where to go for basketball. Even upon arrival on the grounds, there was no directional signage or attendants, so I had to do a little work beforehand to know where I was going. When you go through the Stony Lonesome gate, just follow that road for a little over a mile and you will see a parking lot on the right, across from the football stadium. This is the option for basketball as the arena is right next door. Parking seemed plentiful for the consistently small crowds. For the jam-packed Navy game, I would hope there would be a little more direction when these lots get full.
Bathrooms are adequate, though they are located in the central concourse area as opposed to right behind the seats when you exit out of the seating area. Not a big deal as the extra walk is quite short.
An Army basketball game at Christl Arena is wonderful as the whole event won't even cost you a $20 bill. Parking is free and all tickets are $6. Most concession items don't exceed $3.
For me, the most enjoyable experience at Christl Arena was reading all of the honors and plaques that surround the court. Even before entering, there is a tribute to the Army athlete with a quote from General Douglas MacArthur. Near the box office is a display case of all the accomplishments by Don Holleder, for whom the complex is named after (special thanks to one of the employees who came up to me and explained more on this great person). The rest of the concourse is a collection of honors and displays that are worth walking to all sides of the facility to see everything.
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457 Main St
Highland Falls, NY 10928
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Highland Falls, NY 10928
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