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Official Review by Chad Minton, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located just outside of downtown Huntsville, Elmore Gymnasium offers a closeness factor to the college basketball fan that not every venue can offer. You’re going to feel like you’re in a high school gymnasium more than a college team’s arena, but “The Dog House” can still get plenty loud enough to give the Bulldogs a home-court advantage. The arena has 6,000 seats packed into a small area, and that brings a challenge to any opposing team when they pay a visit here.
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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 was one tiny concession stand on the bottom floor, and it was a challenge to even figure out what the options were. I eventually found out that you can get a small box of popcorn for $2 or assorted candy for $1. That pretty much summed up the food options.
As for drinks, there are bottled sodas for $2. I've been to high school games that had more options for fans to enjoy, so it was pretty shocking to see hardly anything for a venue that could get upwards of 5,000 fans.
There is also no menu or price list, so plan accordingly.
The band really kept the atmosphere from sagging during the game. They played during most of the timeouts, and they were really impressive to listen to. It also seemed to get the fans pumped up, because the game clearly didn't seem to keep their attention for too long.
The wooden bleachers really make you feel like you've gone back in time to the 1970's. You'll find yourself needing to get up and stretch your legs after sitting on them for an extended amount of time. The railing on the upper level can also really distort your view of the game if you're sitting within the first five rows of bleachers. I made this mistake and had to move higher up to have a clear view. There are a limited number of chair-back seats on the bottom level, but these could fill up quite fast for a bigger game.
One section was named "The Dawg Pound", which was almost completely full. However, even this section didn't make a ton of noise throughout the game.
It's clear that Elmore Gymnasium is in need of some serious modernization.
One thing to the venue's credit is how loud the place can get. You're right up on top of the court, even if you're in the upper section of the gym. There were times when the place got rocking, despite it not even being close to a sellout.
You're a short drive from downtown Huntsville, and there are plenty of things to do once you get there. As for the immediate area surrounding the campus of Alabama A&M, there's not much. You will find a typical selection of fast food restaurants nearby, but there didn't seem to be much going on near the campus.
If you're into astronomy, you have to make the 10-minute drive out the Space Center. It's close enough to Elmore Gymnasium that you could pay a visit to the Space Center right before the game.
The fan turnout seemed to be mostly students in the upper sections of the gymnasium. Most of the students did not seem to be interested in the game. However, there was a decent amount of students that at least attended the game, so that's better than nothing.
The bottom level was about half-full, and these were the fans that were more involved in the game. They were arguing calls with the officials, cheering on the players and applauding good plays. If the fans up top had been more into the game itself, the gym might have gotten loud on this particular evening. There were certainly enough fans there that it could have made a difference.
It's pretty easy to make your way to Alabama A&M's campus. The campus is basically located within Huntsville's city limits, and Interstate 565 will take you within minutes of Elmore Gymnasium.
With that said, it's easy to drive past the campus itself. There aren't a ton of signs directing you to the campus. It is also somewhat of a challenge to figure out which building was actually Elmore Gymnasium. The building itself is pretty discreet.
Once inside Elmore Gymnasium, it's tough to navigate through the narrow hallways to your seats. Forget about an arena concourse. Instead of a concourse, you have three sets of stairs to climb if you're in the general admission seating. To find those stairs, you have to walk down some hallways, and I saw no signs that would direct you to certain section numbers. If you're in the lower level, you simply need to walk through the double doors in the main lobby to reach your seats.
A $10 ticket will get you a sore back when it's all said and done. These wooden bleachers are basically like sitting on the hard floor. I would recommend bringing a cushion of some sort to sit on during the game. Simply put, a wooden seat at a small program's venue for $10 may be a bit much for many fans.
For $15, you can sit on the more modern bleachers or the small number of chair back seats. Again, $15 tickets seem high for such a small program.
Parking is free, which helps a little bit. You won't have to worry about spending too much at the concession stands, unless you plan on stocking up on popcorn and M&Ms.
It would help if the university reduced their prices to a more reasonable level if they want average fans in the Huntsville area to attend these games. The goal should be for average people to fill up the seats. The student following is very important, but the average fan also needs to be kept in mind.
There wasn't anything extra to take away from this experience, outside of the student band. They were one of the better bands I've seen at a college game, and that was a pleasure to witness up close.
It's very clear that Elmore Gymnasium is in drastic need of some renovations. The wooden bleachers are rather uncomfortable, and the sound system doesn't even support any kind of clear music to be played during timeouts.
There were some loyal fans, but the students that were in attendance seemed to be there just as a social event rather than to support the team.
Elmore Gymnasium was once considered one of the best home-court advantages in Division II basketball, but a lot of upgrades need to be done to regain that reputation.
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