Equidistant from the large college town of Syracuse and the baseball haven of Cooperstown is the small town of Hamilton, New York with a population of about 3,500 in central Upstate. The school which resides in Hamilton is also small, with an enrollment of about 2,800.
The Colgate Raiders are a member of the eight-team Patriot League, the small basketball conference romanticized and documented by John Feinstein in his book, The Last Amateurs. There is no doubt that the charm of the Patriot League, and the home floor of Colgate known as Cotterell Court, is the quaint intimacy of a small arena in small town America.
The seating areas could be described as “horseshoe-shaped” although with a capacity of about 3,000 “pony-shaped” may be more appropriate. The beauty of the small arena though is the ability to have an inexpensive ticket which is close to the Division I action. While Colgate only would be a destination of player parents and the most hard-core college basketball junkie, there is plenty to like and a visit is worth your while if you’re in the area.
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There is one lone concession stand in the corner of the arena nearest the opponent bench. Despite its size, there are a greater than expected array of food options. I tried the "Southwest Tornado" ($4) which is a spicy chicken taquito that was no doubt microwaved to order, but it was still pretty tasty. The more traditional items include cheeseburger ($4.50), hamburger ($4), chili cheese dog ($5), hot dog ($4), and chili ($4.50). Snack items include popcorn ($3.50), nachos with cheese ($3.50), hot pretzel ($3), and chips ($1.50).
Coke products are available in souvenir-sized cups ($3.50). If you want something hot on a cold winter night then you can also choose from coffee, hot cider, and hot chocolate ($2.25 per cup). Beer and alcohol is not served, as is the case for most on-campus facilities in the NCAA.
While the building can get loud, the game day presentation is pretty basic. On the side behind the benches you will find two sections of chairback seats in section 2 and section 3. Like all of the seats in the area, they pull out from the wall for games, so while they may be roomy, they're a little flimsy as well. The remaining seats are all plastic bleachers in either gray or maroon. The side opposite the team benches you will find the word "Gate" within the bleachers. The students sit beneath the basket nearest the Colgate bench. The school would be better served to swap the location of the home and visitor benches so the students can be beneath the opponent basket in the second half, and thus have a greater effect on the game.
There is only one scoreboard in the arena. It hangs over center court with four sides displaying the score, time, period, team fouls, and individual player fouls as they occur.
There is no pep band unfortunately to help add to the atmosphere. A good pep band, even a small one, could greatly influence the atmosphere rather than the typical mix of pop music which is played over the good speaker system. They do have what seems like an excessively loud horn to signify time outs and substitutions.
The cheerleading squad is small, but consistent. The Colgate mascot, a Raider named "Raider" stands for most of the game opposite of the Colgate cheerleaders, and while you'll occasionally see him offer a high five to fans, he is pretty nonexistent when it comes to enhancing the fan experience. You won't find games and contests to fill the time outs and halftime, only performances by the cheerleaders and dance team.
Hamilton may be a small town, but there are plenty of options to keep the first (or even second or third) time visitor entertained and fed. Along Lebanon Street, you may want to spend some time catching a flick at the Hamilton Movie Theatre, which had about four films on offer at the time of my visit.
If you consider yourself a foodie, then the must try option is the Colgate Inn (which is also a hotel if you want to stay some place unique while in town). Located in a building that is more than 200 years old, the Colgate Inn has been serving food for more than 80 years. Live it up and try the lobster, pea, and linguica mac & cheese.
If a bar setting is more your scene, then you'll want to visit Rusch's Bar & Grill. They have 20 interesting beers on tap, really delicious burgers, as well as sandwiches, salads, and soups. They also have a tabletop shuffleboard game, making this a great place to hang out with friends before or after the game.
All of this is about a mile from the Colgate campus, and could be walked, although parking makes this a pretty easy drive. Speaking of the Colgate campus, it is worth the time to drive through or walk through the hilly campus if you have the time. It can be a really beautiful sight.
The small student section under the Colgate bench's basket seats about 100 or so in five rows of plastic bleachers. On the occasion of my visit, the section was full, although the school was honoring the Patriot League champion Raiders football team, which made up a good deal of the section. It is a pretty dispassionate student section, which certainly takes away from the overall experience.
The rest of the fans are pretty into the game, cheering on their Raiders and making intelligent commentary about the game flow and officiating.
Before I traveled to the game, I found several sources which cited 13 Oak St. as the location of Cotterell Court. Please note if you're going to a game that this is NOT the address. Although there isn't a published address for Reid Athletic Center (where Cotterell Court is located), you can probably aim a GPS device to 201 Broad Street and find the dual-domed building that makes up the basketball facility and also the hockey arena, Starr Rink.
There is a large lobby when you first enter Reid Athletic Center, which will leave no doubt that you have found the center of the athletics program. There are trophies on display, team photos, and other memorabilia with a C-shaped trophy case in the center. There's even a bowling alley here, which is open to the public as well as students on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Restrooms are also found in this lobby, and they are large enough to handle the crowd and clean, but not all that modern.
Tickets for Colgate basketball have a straightforward pricing structure, and are very reasonable. Adult tickets are $5, and tickets for seniors and children are $3. This is the lowest pricing that I have encountered for a Division I college basketball game. Parking is free and if you buy something to eat and a drink, you're still under $15 for your night of entertainment. It's a great value for families, and a great value for sports fans.
One extra point for the opportunity to go bowling in the Reid Athletic Center before a Saturday night game, or weekend day game. Sounds like a fun idea to me.
One extra point for the beautiful Colgate campus.
Colgate is one of those small schools with a small arena that looking back you can say that there isn't a lot that makes the arena special. However, I had a great time while I was in Hamilton, NY. It may be in a remote location, but if you make the trip, you should have a good time at a Colgate basketball game.
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