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Official Review by DeRon Talley, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When you compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) the nation doesn’t expect much from you athletically, but Southern University’s basketball program has made some noise.
For a school and program that isn’t very popular in athletics, it still has seen seven NCAA tournament trips with its most recent being in 2006 when it lost to Duke in the first round. That’s not bad for a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) though I was surprised to see that the fan attendance was less than 1,000 for the game I attended. A six-year drought in the NCAA tournament isn’t long enough for a fan-base to be so low.
Felton G. Clark Activity Center is where the school plays its basketball games and from the looks of things, I don’t think this place has been rocking since former NBA Champion Avery Johnson played here in his college days. Of course, during that time for Southern fans, there was nothing better than watching a “mini-Magic Johnson” make the Jaguars look like Harlem Globetrotters. Beginning in February 2013, the floor will be known as Avery Johnson Court.
As I sat in the F.G. Clark Activity Center, I felt like I had been there before. It looked really familiar. Then I figured it out, it looks like a smaller version of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. So, I checked the media guide to see if it said anything about the design of the center and sure enough, the F.G. Clark Activity Center is also known as the “mini-dome.” The mini-dome is the perfect description for the dome with its maximum capacity is about 8,000 people.
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".
When you talk about an exciting menu, don't expect to throw this one in. You get the basics: nachos ($3) plus an extra dollar to add chili, hot dog ($2) and an extra dollar for chili, hot sausage ($4), popcorn ($2), peanuts ($2), and candy ($1). Your drink selections are bottled Coca-Cola products and cost $3.
One thing about the mini-dome is that despite a small attendance number, the few who show up show out. They know how to have a good time and cheer their team on. It reminded me of a sock-hop. There was a DJ and there was an MC who kept things entertaining during media timeouts and at the halftime break. This college basketball game easily could make you feel like it's a professional venue if you close your eyes and listen. Only when you can see that you may be the only person sitting on your row is when you can feel you're at a SWAC game.
It's a small and pretty basic venue. It has regular arena seats. There's an overhead scoreboard that displays the score, time remaining, period, and possession arrow. Overall, the gimmicks are what make the atmosphere unique for a SWAC school.
The F.G. Clark Activity Center is about seven miles north of downtown Baton Rouge, where you can find the Louisiana State Capitol building and many other tourist hot spots. But, when you're on the Southern University campus area there aren't a lot of things to see. You pass through a residential area and then you arrive to the bridge that'll take you into Jaguar land where you see the campus.
The food places you pass by aren't unique, as you see the most popular fast food chain represented with its golden arches, McDonalds. My recommendation is take the ride south to downtown to experience a variety of foods. I recommend you try Schlittz & Giggles on Main Street for a good slice of pizza.
Big things come in small packages. As I mentioned earlier, the excitement in the mini-dome was very surprising for the amount of people who attended. There were no cheerleaders or spirit leaders; instead there was the MC and the DJ who kept the crowd "crunk."
If you're wondering how the crowd stayed pumped up: give-a-ways. Everybody gets excited about free stuff, so what better way to do that than make cheering contests for free tickets to upcoming games and free t-shirts. So, it was hard for the fans not to be on the edges of their seats when the game was underway, so when a big play happened they spoke volumes. In between those times they were still pumped. By the end of the game, the fans were probably as worn out as the players were due to shouting and jumping for free stuff.
If the free stuff you can win inside doesn't get the fans pumped, just driving up to the game should have because the parking is free too. With free parking and a short walk to the arena, the fans should be breaking down the doors to get in and experience a SWAC basketball game. The parking is much easier than the university's football stadium, Ace W. Mumford Stadium.
It is rather easy to make it around the arena, and the bathrooms are adequate but the corridors are a bit antiquated. There are old televisions hanging that don't work and the lighting is poor at the concession stands.
You can get a cheap ticket to a SWAC game at the mini-dome for about $8 for general admission. The food is cheap and the free entertainment is worth the investment. For a solo night out, you can spend about $15 bucks at the arena and maybe even win a t-shirt and a free ticket to the next game that would together value more than the $15 you invested in the night. I think that's a winner.
I really enjoyed having an MC walk around and pump the crowd up with a microphone. He danced to the DJs music and said very appropriate things to keep the crowd energetic without being corny.
So, when you come to the F.G. Clark Activity Center (a.k.a the mini-dome), be ready to compete. It seems as if they want everyone who roots for the Jaguars to be winners and go home with something other than a ticket stub.
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