It is likely a safe bet that many travelers have taken a ride on South Carolina Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Charlotte, asking themselves about that USC Upstate school they see on billboards and exit signs around Spartanburg, South Carolina. These billboards alert motorists that, in their words, “This is Spartan Country” and this is a school “On The Rise”. The university's athletic programs certainly agree with that claim.
Formerly known as USC-Spartanburg, USC Upstate came to be in 2004, and gained Division I status in 2007. The school was not eligible to gain NCAA postseason berths until the 2011-12 season, however, and Upstate basketball did not wait to capitalize on the opportunity. The Spartans made an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2012, defeating Kent State on their home floor in the Hodge Center before falling to Old Dominion University. Matt Fincher's Upstate baseball team fell just shy of making their first postseason appearance, as well, finishing second in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 33-20 record.
With a recently-upgraded home – and more upgrades potentially on the way – and a spot in the competitive Atlantic Sun Conference, USC Upstate is starting to draw great athletes from the Palmetto State and across the country. As the Spartans continue to play more big-name opponents and draw attention to themselves, it should become more and more obvious that the billboards fans see are not cockiness, but fact.
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The dining choices at an Upstate basketball game are about average for a smaller school. The single stand in the lobby offers nachos ($3), various snacks (chips, candy and peanuts for $1 each), popcorn ($2), hot dogs ($2) and combos that include a drink, hot dog and chips for $5. The nachos and hot dogs seem to be popular choices.
Coca-Cola is the bottler for the campus, and Powerade, bottled sodas and water are available for $2 from the stand. There are also drink machines placed throughout the lobby. These machines offer a few drink choices not available at the stand.
The Hodge Center is...well, let's just call it "intimate". The arena seats 818 fans, which means that just about everyone is going to get a great seat to see the action. The only seats with a questionable view are those behind the hilarious Spartan Army, the Upstate student section. The Spartan Army stands throughout the game and certainly makes their presence felt. The students are small in numbers, but quite loud in volume.
There is no band at Upstate - likely due to the smaller enrollment numbers - so the cheerleaders and Spartan mascot make a lot of appearances on the floor during breaks. The school fills in the blanks with a fairly typical musical soundtrack, and the cheerleaders perform routines to many of the songs that are played. Though a pep band would be nice, there may not be room for one in the gym's current configuration, and silence is not a problem, by any means. Even with the doors open, the arena is extremely loud from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
The Hodge Center has large video scoreboards on either end of the floor. These scoreboards feature running player totals, in-game video capability and numerous additional touches. Unfortunately, the scoreboard malfunctioned on the day I visited, leaving just the score and a running clock on the board. The Upstate athletic department performed admirably in devising a backup plan, however, and the game was played with an auxiliary shot clock after a brief delay. This also resulted in the requirement of an air horn to replace the malfunctioning buzzer, which was quite deafening in the smaller confines of the gym.
There are only eight sections of seats inside the Hodge Center, and whether you purchase a general admission seat or sit courtside, you will have a comfortable chairback seat from which to enjoy the game. The safety railing on the edge of the riser closest to the entrance door is at an angle, so if heights concern you, you may want to choose a seat a bit closer to the center of the row. Though the seats are quite comfortable, there is no cupholder on the seat, which might be a helpful touch.
The USC Upstate campus is just off US Highway 176 and South Carolina Interstate 585. There is essentially nothing within walking distance of the campus, but some options exist within a 5-10 minute drive. Still more is available around the Dorman Center in Spartanburg, which is 10-15 minutes by car.
South Carolina favorite FATZ Cafe has a location on South Carolina Highway 9 (Boiling Springs Road), along with Copper River Grill. A number of chain choices are available on South Carolina Highway 56 (Asheville Highway), which is one exit away on the business loop of 85. The Spartanburg landmark Beacon Drive-In is another option, should you have a car available and wish to make the trip.
We spoke earlier of the Spartan Army, and they highlight a pretty rowdy group of fans at the Hodge. The Spartan Army turns their backs when the opposing starters are introduced, playfully heckles the opposing team without getting personal and leads the crowd in chants and cheers throughout the game. The section has their own camouflage t-shirts, along with various creative headwear and additional touches.
Despite the scoreboard-related delay on the day I attended, the crowd was involved from beginning to end, with hardly an empty seat in the house. The Spartans enjoy a loyal group of fans, and one would imagine that this will continue as the basketball program gains more notoriety. The second phase of upgrades to the Hodge Center would create even more of an atmosphere, helping the fans' excitement continue to grow.
Fans visiting USC Upstate can access the area via Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, which is approximately 15 miles from the campus. A number of surface roads connect to the campus, including interstates 85, 85 Business, 585 and 26, US 176 and several South Carolina highways. Wofford College and Converse College are also nearby, should you wish to take in another game on your trip.
Visiting a game at the Hodge Center could not be easier in terms of ingress and egress. The campus is just off 176 and 585 at the East Campus Boulevard exit. The Hodge Center is just off University Way, facing East Campus Boulevard. Plentiful free parking surrounds the building, and your space is just steps away from the front door. With the proximity of the university to the highway, fans can be in their car and on their way after the game in a matter of minutes.
The lobby contains the concession stand, drink machines, souvenir stand (more on this later) and restrooms. The area can get a bit crowded at times, but lines are never really an issue. Even during the half, the lines move quickly and you are returned to your seat in relatively short order. Keeping with the theme, the restrooms are somewhat small, but well-appointed. There were no lines at the half on the day I attended, though the facility was rather full.
If your goal is to see Division I basketball at a reasonable price, USC Upstate is the place to go. There are three seating levels: general admission ($8), reserved ($15) and VIP ($20). The VIP seats are courtside, but the general admission seats are, quite honestly, a pretty great value. The eight seating sections in the arena have the general admission seats in the four corner sections, with the reserved seats in the two middle sections on either side of the court.
Using the typical test, a game ticket, hot dog, soda, parking and program will total $14. This is an incredible deal. A family of four can see a Spartan game for under $60, which is cheaper than some movies.
Of all the things we mentioned in the lobby of the Hodge Center, the best of those things rests on a table just inside the main doors. Sure, the program you will find there is relatively small - it contains the team's schedule, standings, notes and facts about the opposing team and both teams' rosters - but it includes all the information any fan would need. The best part of the program is the price tag, or lack thereof.
The souvenir stand rests just behind the table from which you grab your free program, and it contains a wide variety of Upstate souvenirs. T-shirts, hats and additional logo products are for sale, all at great prices. Nike t-shirts, for example, are $15 at the stand, which is considerably cheaper than they can be found in other locations.
There is a video board to the left of the entry doors that features campus announcements and honors the achievements of athletes. This is a nice touch to appreciate the successes taking place on the Upstate campus. Part of ensuring future success is celebrating existing success, and this helps to do so.
Fans love free items, and Upstate has everyone covered. The cheerleaders throw free foam basketballs into the crowd during one of the timeouts, and they throw t-shirts into the stands during another timeout. The foam basketballs are extremely popular with the kids in the crowd. Full Throttle energy drinks were also given to the students as they exited the game I attended, which seemed to be a huge hit, as the students were preparing for their fall exams.
There are also a number of statues and plaques inside and outside the facility. A Spartan statue is just outside the entry doors, a nod to the school's mascot and nickname. Just inside the lobby, there is a plaque honoring G.B. Hodge, for whom the building is named. There is also an honorary section to Dolores Anderson, a local businesswoman who was the primary donor for many of the renovations to the Hodge Center.
The Hodge Center is not a large coliseum with all the modern amenities, but don't let this stop you from paying a visit to the campus. There are numerous water features and landmarks to visit throughout the campus, and after a walk to visit these features of the campus, you will get to see quality Division I basketball in a comfortable place at a reasonable price. Combine all of this with the hospitality from the university's staff, and you will surely find the Hodge Center to be a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or evening watching basketball.
Way too small for a D1 arena. But Upstate knocks every other aspect out of the park.
Not even big enough for a high school gym. Sure it is a home court advantage but that is because there are only 800 seats. And who from another team is going to travel there. One food station and vending machines. Come on man
2104 SC Hwy 9
Boiling Springs, SC 29316
255 John B White Sr Blvd
Spartanburg, SC 29306
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