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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Lebanon Valley College hockey competes in the Eastern College Athletic Conference West. The small, liberal arts school is situated in Annville in Lebanon County, 16 miles east of Hershey, Pennsylvania and is home to 1,600 undergraduates. Its Division III hockey program was established in 1998 and has called the historic Hersheypark Arena home since its inception.
The arena was the former home of the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League from 1936-2002, and is one of the most iconic sporting facilities in the country. The “old barn” may not host capacity crowds these days, but there is still a sense of chills when walking inside the main concourse and staring at the arched roof ceiling that stretches 100 feet at its highest point.
Milton Hershey, the founder of Hershey Chocolate, designed the arena after he was unable to purchase a ticket to a sold-out game at the last minute at the Ice Palace. He wanted to construct a new venue that would satisfy the appetite for hockey in the area and sent out to scout other facilities for ideas on designs and aesthetics.
Construction began in the spring of 1936 and eight months later the then called Hershey Sports Arena debuted with a crowd of 5,000 on hand to witness the Bears defeat the New York Rovers 3-2. The signature look is the monolithic roof that provides unobstructed views from all seats in the house.
That same roof would need repairs 77-years later when it’s original cork tiles were replaced with a light tan cellulose spray-on insulation. The $500,000 renovations brighten the interior, reduced echos, and improved acoustics. The arena is still busy after 8 decades of service as it houses the Hershey Jr. Bears, Shippensburg University hockey, state wrestling tournaments, and cheerleading invitational.
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 is one small concession stand open serving stadium staples. It's surrounded by other concession stands that are closed, but are open during higher attendant events at the arena.
The selection is limited, but served up hot and fresh from the grill. Chicken strips are $4.25, hot dogs $3, hamburgers $3.25, cheeseburgers $3.50, and fries $2.25. Pepsi products come in two sizes and are $2.25 and $2.50.
Not too much has to take place inside the historic facility to create a pleasing atmosphere. However, once each team takes to the ice, the place lights up and one quickly grabs a seat to enjoy the game taking place.
The capacity crowds no longer exist and on most nights there is a sprinkling of 250-500 fans throughout the lower level concourse rooting on their Dutchmen hockey team. The small crowds do not diminish the atmosphere as the arena possesses a might all its own. The small college hockey team and its fans do an adequate job of supplying their own ambiance to the famous arena.
There is a strong presence of the arena's former tenants the Bears whose Calder championship banners are on display at one end of the arena. The team captured eight titles, three more at its new arena the Giant Center, that still hang proudly for all to witness. There are also retired numbers above the rafters of former Bears greats and plenty of hand painted signage throughout the concourse in art deco design that was popular at the time of its construction.
The upper level concourse is off limits during the game and there is no access from inside the arena concourse. The lower level offers three levels of seating that show the evolution of stadium seating of the past 80 years. The lower level seats are deep brown wooden varieties that are somewhat narrow. The middle row has orange cushion seats that are roomier and flexible as they rock back and forth. The top seating section provides blue plastic seats, sturdy and firm.
The Hersheypark Arena is part of the larger Hersheypark Entertainment and Resorts that houses the Giant Center, Hersheypark Stadium, Hersheypark, and Chocolate World. If you are with the family, plan ahead since there is a lot to do within the mile or so radius of the arena. On the night of this review in November, there were events taking place in all three sports venues and the amusement park.
Other destinations include the Tanger Outlets, tax-free in Pennsylvania, and Tröegs Brewing Company that offers tours, delicious meals, and great craft brew beer. Two wonderful local establishments for comfort and rustic foods set in historic buildings are the Union Canal House and The Mill in Hershey. Both offer rotating craft beers, handmade food, and late night menus.
Lebanon Valley College has its supporters who attend hockey games at the arena that result in an average of 250-500 people. The old barn does not pack them in like they used to, but still provides a canvas for hockey to the faithful who support Dutchmen hockey.
Getting into the arena by car can be somewhat complex based on the amount of facilities located in the entertainment complex. However, once inside the area there is no problem getting to your seat, finding a bathroom, or concession area. The highlight is that all of the signage is hand painted on the walls or aisles.
General admission tickets are $5, senior citizens prices are $3, and youth are only $2. A very good deal to watch hockey in a venerable and historic facility. The parking is free depending on which entrance you enter the complex and menu options are inexpensive. A Bears game at the neighboring Giant Center would be first on the list, but if they are out of town, pay a visit the Hersheypark Arena for an old-time hockey feel.
One point for the building looking much the same as it did on opening night in 1936. There are so many touches from hand painted signs, old bathroom markers, and entrances that transport the customer back to the early days of hockey in Hershey.
Another point for the collection of Hershey Bears memorabilia that is still visible inside the arena. The team's first eight Calder Cup banners and retired numbers of Frank Mathers, Ralph Keller, Mike Nykoluk, Tim Tookey, Arnie Kullman, Willie Marshall, and Mitch Lamoureux are still on display inside the arena.
A third point for the two plaques commemorating Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point night on March 2, 1962. The famous photo of the Wilt and scorecard on display at the two main entrance to the concourse from the lobby.
A final point for the old wooden, dark brown chairs that take up the first few bottom rows of the arena. They look like they could be the originals and have an ornate finish that further takes a fan back in time.
The last bastion of iconic hockey rinks looks great after eight decades of service.The Hersheypark Arena could have easily been razed after the Bears left in 2002, but instead it has been continuously used for hockey, public skating, and other events in central Pennsylvania. Its history is intact, its legacy still strong, and its future still very bright.
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