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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
In 1997, the Norfolk State Spartans joined the MEAC as they completed their move from Division II. It wasn’t until 2012 when the Spartans moved from college basketball obscurity to Cinderella darlings when they knocked off No. 2 Missouri, becoming the fifth No. 15 seed to win their first game in the NCAA Tournament. 2012 was also the first ever MEAC Tournament Championship for the men’s basketball team.
The Spartans have played their home basketball games at Joseph G. Echols Hall since the building opened in 1982. The arena is named for a former instructor who helped to found the athletics program at Norfolk State.
The arena is the second largest in the MEAC, seating 7,000 for basketball games. There’s an interesting array of seating options at Echols Hall, but wherever you sit, you’ll be sure to be caught up in the enthusiasm of the pep band, the cheerleaders, and the crowd. Get ready for Spartan basketball at Norfolk State.
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".
There's less than you might expect when attending a basketball game at Norfolk State, but certainly enough to sustain you if you need something. The chicken basket is the main entrée and includes fries ($7). An all-beef hot dog is on hand ($3). You can add chili to either of these or cheese (50 cents).
Coke products are available or bottled water ($3). Nachos will cost you $3. Other snacks include popcorn, peanuts, candy, and gum ($2 each). There are two concession stands and they are each within the inner concourse, so if you're at the back of the line you should be able to keep an eye on the game.
There aren't a lot of fancy bells and whistles when you see a game at Echols Hall, but there is plenty of energy. The biggest complaint that I have is that they don't let the pep band play more. They are tragically under-utilized. This is a talented crew, and although they make for good fans, they would make better use of these young men and women if they were allowed to play during every break in the action. Instead, the school opts for piped in music. It's fine, but the band would be much better for improving the overall atmosphere.
The cheerleaders are also very good, shaking their bodies and shaking up the crowd at every opportunity.
The seating is somewhat unique with five rows of extendable seats pulled out for each contest. These provide seat backs and better than average leg room. Above that there are 14 small sections that serve sort of like box seats. The seating has a little less legroom, but are more comfortable chairs than the yellow extendable ones below. Above those seats is the inner concourse.
Above the inner concourse there are about 15 rows of wooden bleachers. These can be found on each side of the court and are relatively comfortable. They do provide a good vantage point if you're one who likes to sit a little higher in order to see plays develop.
There is a four-sided, center-hung scoreboard providing the only score in the building. There's no video screen, just the basics (score, time, time outs left, team fouls, and the number of the current fouler).
There's an annoying sound effect that you'll need to get used to throughout the game at Norfolk State. Whenever the Spartans go to the line, the PA plays out the phrase, "Free throws win ball games," and the fans answer with a clap-clap. If it is a game that comes down to the fouling game in the second half, then this will get old fast, believe me.
There is one other area in need of improvement with the overall atmosphere. The Spartan mascot is one of the least active that I have seen. He stands in the corner for nearly the entirety of the game. The mascot has a face like Ed Asner, and kind of moves like Ed Asner too. Come to think of it, since mascots are anonymous, it just may have been Ed Asner in that suit.
Although there isn't a lot immediately nearby Echols Hall that could be considered walking distance, it's just a couple of miles to get to downtown Norfolk, which is a great city to spend some time in. The Norfolk Tides play in the nearby Harbor Park (about a mile away), and the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL play in the unique Norfolk Scope (located downtown on Brambleton).
I made a visit to the Freemason Abbey Restaurant. It's a cool little place located in a former church. They serve wonderful crab cakes and other memorable entrees. This is Chesapeake Bay afterall, so crabs are a must. If you want some fine dining, then consider trying 456 Fish for dinner after the game.
There are plenty of places along Granby Street worth trying. If you want to stay on top of the day's games, then find a seat at the bar at Baxter's.
No trip to Norfolk would be complete without going down to Sewell's Point to see the U.S. Naval ships. They are enormous. You can't miss them when coming in to town from the north over the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
You probably won't see a sellout when you go to a game at Echols Hall, but you can expect a better than half full arena with energetic fans that are attentive, knowledgeable, and passionate for their team. During the second half, the fans did the wave during a time out at varying paces. Usually when you see fans attempt the wave, it takes three or four tries to get it going in full force. These fans did it on the first try! I'm not a big fan of the wave personally, but this was something to behold.
If only the band would play more. This could be a really fun and raucous place to see a game.
The address of 700 Park Ave is not the physical address of Echols Hall as much as a marker of where to turn into campus. From there you will pass by the baseball field, Marty Miller Field, and the football stadium, Price Stadium. In fact, you will drive or walk under the bleachers to get to the basketball arena.
Parking is free, but may be a little confusing. The best spot to park would be in Lot 9 between the baseball and football fields, or in the lot near the beautiful Brooks Library. From there it is a short walk under the football stadium bleachers to the basketball arena.
After the game, it will be easy to leave the area once you walk to your car.
Many tickets for Norfolk State basketball will get you a doubleheader of the women's team followed by the men's team. If you are following your team, or are a fan of Norfolk State, this certainly adds value to your overall investment. Reserved seating will cost you $15, or you can pay $10 for general admission seating. If you would like a chairback seat, then the extra $5 is probably worth it. Additional discounts are available for seniors, military, and faculty ($8) as well as for children aged 7-17 ($5). Children under the age of 7 are admitted for free.
With free parking and inexpensive, although unremarkable, concessions you can find a good value for your dollar at Echols Hall.
In the second half, Norfolk State had a dance with the mascots where young fans came down on the floor to dance with the Spartan mascot, Tidewater from the Norfolk Tides, and Chester Cheetah of Cheetos fame. It was a little wacky, but a lot of fun.
One additional point for the parity found in the MEAC. You are likely to find a close game in this conference, even if it isn't the highest level of basketball in Division I. You also may have the opportunity to see a team that may end up playing the role of Cinderella in March.
I enjoyed my trip to Norfolk State and Echols Hall. Norfolk is a wonderful place to live and visit, and seeing the Norfolk State Spartans is money well spent if you enjoy college basketball.
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209 W Freemason St
Norfolk, VA 23510
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