There is much beauty to be found in North Carolina, and for lovers of the mountains, one of the best places to find this beauty is the town of Boone. This tiny mountain town of fewer than 20,000 residents boasts a proximity to some of the state and region's finest ski resorts and attractions. The world-famous Blue Ridge Parkway is nearby, and legendary musician Doc Watson called Boone home.
Appalachian (pronounced app-uh-LATCH-in) State University is arguably Boone's most famous inhabitant. Founded in 1899, this university is part of the University of North Carolina system and boasts numerous academic accolades. Most fans outside the region know Appalachian State for its "unofficial" promotional video or the football team's upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2007.
ASU is trying to build a basketball tradition to match that of their football program. The home of this building project is the on-campus Holmes Center. Opened in 2000, the Holmes Center serves as the home of the Mountaineers' winter sports, as well as concerts and other events in the High Country of North Carolina. The surrounding region is so beautiful that it is almost a shame to have to come inside, but the winter weather in Boone will occasionally force you to do so. When you do go inside, the Holmes Center provides you with a comfortable place to watch some of the best Division I basketball around in the Southern Conference.
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 are several concession stands on the outer concourse level at the Holmes Center, and they serve relatively standard stadium fare. The main selections include hot dogs ($2 for regular, $3 for chili dogs), nachos ($3 for regular, $4 for chili cheese), popcorn ($2 for small, $3 for large) and pretzels ($2). Woodlands Barbecue offers barbecue at one concession stand, located between sections 5 and 6, which is a nice reminder of the arena's locale.
Pepsi is the bottler for the arena, and a decent variety of soda (Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Mug Root Beer, Dr. Pepper and Sierra Mist) is available for $2 for a 16-ounce small or $3 for a 32-ounce large. Bottled water and Gatorade are also available for $2 each. If sweets are more your thing, a number of treats are available at each stand. Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Cherry Garcia, chocolate fudge and cookie dough) can be had for $2, with candy (Skittles, plain & peanut M&Ms, Twix and Snickers) priced at $1.
As we previously mentioned, it's so beautiful outside the Holmes Center that it's almost a shame to come inside. Once you do come inside, however, a relatively intimate experience awaits you. The day I visited featured a game against archrival Davidson, and I noticed that a number of seats were tarped off. On one hand, this is nice, as it lets fans get a little closer to the action. On the other hand, certain sections of the arena seem to be a bit lacking in character.
The team enters through a tunnel in the northwest corner of the floor that says "No Equal". The tunnel is adorned with the school's colors (black and gold). The visiting team emerges from the opposite end of the floor behind the basket, with a sign hanging above their entrance that says "Welcome to Boone Elevation 3333 FT". Universities that play at altitude have an obvious home- court advantage, and Appalachian State publicizes their advantage to their opponents.
The Appalachian students are located in sections 2, 3 and 4 at midcourt. This gets the students very close to the action, making for an interesting "sixth man" effect. The students start a chant between their side of the floor and the other side several times through the game, chanting "App!", while the other side of the floor chants "State!" immediately following the students. The students seemed a bit louder than the other side, but the chant is unique.
Unfortunately, the advantage gained by having the students close to the floor is lost by having the band in the upper deck. The band is quite talented and has an interesting set list, but they seem as though they are a million miles away in this location. Several cheers originated from the upper deck, and the band seemed as though they wanted to get more involved in the game on the day I attended. The band is hard to hear, though, whether they are playing or cheering, which is a shame.
Appalachian State has a rather funny mascot named Yosef. His name allegedly comes from the mountain slang for "yourself", which is indicative of friends, fans and graduates of the school. He has a black hat, a large beard and wears a flannel shirt and black pants. He is a regular participant in the on-court promotions, and seems to be as loved by opposing fans as those in black and gold.
There are four scoreboards in the Holmes Center. The scoreboards hang above the floor, and despite the lack of a center-hung scoreboard, the requisite information (score, time remaining, points and fouls for each player on the floor and the like) is available on each scoreboard. One hangs directly above the 3,333 Club, a special seating area behind the basket, with additional scoreboards over each sideline and the opposite end zone seating area.
Boone is a ski town, and the locals know how to cater to students and tourists. There are numerous restaurants and watering holes within a short distance of the Holmes Center. Everything from diners (Troy's 105 Diner) to pub fare (Murphy's Restaurant & Pub, The TApp Room, The Town Tavern) to fine dining (Casa Rustica, Red Onion Cafe) and more is at your disposal within a few minutes of the campus. The requisite chain fare is also nearby, including Frogurt, a frozen yogurt mini-chain that is quite popular in northern North Carolina. The winter temperatures in Boone may not always have you up for yogurt, however.
Once you get a meal, you may find you want to head out in search of a fun way to spend the day. Tweetsie Railroad is a few minutes south along US Highway 321 in the neighboring town of Blowing Rock. Tweetsie is a western-themed park that offers rides, entertainment and shopping, but check ahead on the park hours, as the park closes for the winter season. Blowing Rock is also home to an outlet mall, Appalachian Ski Mountain and Mystery Hill. Check ahead on road conditions if the weather is dicey, as the roads can turn bad in a hurry in the surrounding area.
Give the fans who do show up the credit they are due, as they are certainly involved in the action. Appalachian fell behind early to Davidson on the day I visited, but the fans still made noise for their home team throughout the game. The students were also quite involved, as we have established.
It is quite disappointing to see sections in the Holmes Center tarped off, though, and even more disappointing to see fewer than 2,000 fans (the announced attendance was just over 1,900 on the day I attended) in an arena that seats over 8,300 come out to support the Mountaineers, especially against a key rival. Davidson brought a number of fans up from Charlotte, including a group of students, and this group seemed to drown out the Appalachian fans at times. The Holmes Center is a nice place to watch good basketball, and one would certainly hope that more fans will come out and cause the tarps to come off the seats once Appalachian establishes consistent success on the hardwood.
It also bears mention that an Appalachian player committed a flagrant foul on a Davidson player on the day I visited, resulting in a temporary injury to the Davidson player. I heard a fan behind me yell at the Appalachian player committing the foul to "hit him harder next time". I realize that this is by no means representative of the greater ASU fan base, so this is not intended to paint all Mountaineer fans with a broad brush. Statements such as this, however -- even if said in jest -- are unnecessary and better left unsaid.
Boone is a bit of a tough place to reach by air. The closest major airport, interestingly, is the Tri-Cities Airport (TRI) in Tennessee (approximately 70 miles from campus). Asheville (100 miles), Greensboro (110 miles) and Charlotte (115 miles) are other possibilities, but none easily connect to the ASU campus. Chain hotels, resorts and inns await you if an overnight stay in Boone is in your plans.
US Highways 221, 321 and 421 access Boone, as well as North Carolina Highway 105, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several other smaller routes. 421 is mostly interstate-quality heading southbound toward the Piedmont Triad (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point) and North Carolina Interstate 77, while it is a bit curvy heading northbound toward Tennessee. 221 and 321 travel through slightly more mountainous terrain, making for a bit slower drive that may be somewhat treacherous in snow or ice.
Parking close to the Holmes Center is by permit only, with event parking signs guiding you up Rivers Street toward the free lots. Street parking is also available in limited quantities, but a fairly long walk may be in the cards for you from the Rivers Street parking deck or other available spots. Be sure to prepare for this and budget in the proper amount of time and cold weather gear before departing for a game.
Once you get into the arena, the seating areas are somewhat choppy in places, resulting in steps up and around railings before being able to continue walking to your seat. The concourse can also get quite crowded during the half, as fans head outside to get concessions, causing lines to build at the stands. These lines can become that much longer if children are allowed to cut to the front of the line and receive service before the other patrons who have been waiting, as happened to me on my visit. Fans in the Carolinas love to talk to each other, and a game at the Holmes Center is no exception. This may also lead you to take a bit less direct route around the concourse, as fans gather to have conversations and watch the kids play with the inflatable toys.
Bathrooms are quite prevalent in the Holmes Center, and your walk from your seat to the restroom will never be too long. The facilities are clean and appropriately equipped for the crowds they handle during the course of a game. The restrooms are among the few areas where lines do not build during the half.
The Southern Conference offers a fun brand of basketball, and Appalachian State brings in a number of quality opponents. Combine this with the cost to attend a game, and the value at a Mountaineer game is really tough to beat. Even if you purchase the best tickets available, your adult seat will cost you just $10, with youth tickets (ages 3-12) priced at $5.
Using our standard test, you can get a game ticket, hot dog, regular soda, program and parking for $14. A family of four can attend an Appalachian State game for under $60, which provides a manageable price tag for the average Mountaineer fan's budget. Even if your only idea is to come inside and warm up, stick around for some great basketball at a reasonable price.
Game programs are free as you enter the Holmes Center. These are not the most in-depth publications ever, but they provide all the information fans may need, including current conference standings, game notes, rosters, a stat sheet and game schedule. This saves fans an added expense, and also allows the opportunity to keep score throughout the game.
A number of promotions take place throughout the game, including the Casa Rustica Cutest Couple, a t-shirt toss and a shoot for cash promotion. The latter affords a fan three shots from half-court to win the day's cash prize. The fan shooting on the day I attended needed just one shot, leaving $125 richer after draining the first attempt.
Finally, Appalachian State offers proof that it is more than simply a football school in the end zone near the "Welcome to Boone" sign. The university's six Northern Division titles in Southern Conference play (1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2010) are honored on banners hanging just behind the basket. Appalachian's other winter sports are honored through commemorative banners hanging around the arena. This is a nice nod to the university's past athletic successes.
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747 West King St
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940 Ski Mountain Rd
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