Have you ever wondered why the Akron athletic teams are called the Zips, and why they are represented by a Kangaroo mascot? I know that was the first question on my mind when I traveled to the Rubber City to see the James A. Rhodes Arena, home of the Zips of the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
Let's get to that mascot question first, then we'll get to the arena. The full nickname of the Zips is the Zippers, named because the zipper was invented in Akron. In the 1950's a contest was held to choose the mascot and a student recommended the kangaroo and it was approved. Today, Zippy the Kangaroo (who happens to be a female kangaroo) makes her presence known at games, and also hangs in the rafters in honor of winning the 2007 Mascot of the Year contest, sponsored by Capitol One (the banner humorously misspells the name of the sponsoring company however).
With that bit of trivia out of the way, let's get to the facility itself. Named for former Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes, the arena is commonly known as "The JAR" to Akron denizens and students. The arena seats 5,500, but it feels much smaller than that, with almost all of the seating being fold out seats on the lower and upper levels.
The Zips have made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament since they joined the ranks of Division I, the first being under the leadership of former head coach Bob Huggins. His picture and accomplishments hang on a large banner in the Northeast corner of the arena.
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".
The one somewhat exciting item on the menu is the Chick-fil-A sandwich found in the main concourse ($4). I don't know what it is about those, but they are always juicy, and this one is no exception. Other than that, your selection is pretty basic. It includes hot dog ($3.50), brat ($4.50), pretzel ($3), popcorn ($3.50), nachos ($4), and Papa John's pizza ($4.50).
Drinks are brought to you by Pepsi. Bottled selections of pop or water go for $3.
The Rhodes Arena reminds me quite a bit of the home of their MAC rival, the Kent State Golden Flashes. It is a small venue. It is very warm. It is pretty basic.
All of the lower seats are blue plastic chairs that extend from rows that roll out. This is also true of sections 1-3 in the upper section. The remainder of the seats are wooden bleachers. Your best bet for seating would be to aim for section 2, where you can sit center court. The legroom is slightly above average for the plastic seats, which is also a big upgrade over the bleachers.
There's an overhead scoreboard that displays the score, time remaining, period, and possession arrow. Behind each basket on the ends, there are dot matrix boards that display the points and fouls for each teams' players on the floor.
There's an indoor track that doubles as the inner concourse in the upper level, although the bleachers cover enough of it that it doesn't feel like the fans are unduly pushed back. Overall, there isn't really too much that feels special inside this venue.
Downtown Akron has quite a few nice places to choose from, and it is only about a mile away from the JAR. You can be adventurous and walk, but I would advise driving. If your inner beer snob is calling, then I would recommend 69 Taps, where they have (surprise) 69 beers on draft. If you are a cleanliness snob, then this may not be the place to go, but the beer selection is hard to beat.
Next door to the home of the Akron Aeros, Canal Park, you may also want to try the Barley House. They have great burgers and sandwiches, and a little bit of BBQ "" all with an Irish pub type twist. They also have 14 beers on tap if that inner beer snob is still nagging you.
When the students are on break, this is a difficult category to judge. I'll give the school the benefit of the doubt. I do like that they have sections reserved for students under each basket, and a section reserved for the band. Unfortunately, those sections were empty during my visit. The remaining fans were into the game, and did a good job of both encouraging their home squad, as well as getting on the refs when they made some bad calls.
There is a parking garage located on Carroll where you can park for free for a Zips game. It is always a nice bonus when I arrive and the parking is free. Rhodes Arena is located just down the street from the Zips football stadium, Infocision Stadium. You are just a mile from downtown in one direction, and a mile from the highway in the other direction. From there, it is a painless drive to make it to the Ohio Tollway, and head east or west.
The concourse is a little awry as the main concourse is located down stairs, and the majority of seating is located in the second level. That idiosyncrasy aside, it is rather easy to make it around the arena, and the bathrooms are adequate.
Tickets are sold through Ticketmaster, so you can expect to pay a $7 fee for "convenience" or "handling" or something along those lines. Nothing bothers me more than going to a team's official site, and having to pay Ticketmaster for them to handle their ticket sales. Upper reserved seats (which are just fine) are only $15 ($20 after the fee), and general admission seats are $10 ($14). I would go for the upper reserved seats so you can get a chair back, but a GA seat would probably do as well.
The free parking certainly helps your wallet, and the concession stands are reasonable, even if they're not overly interesting. If you can get over the Ticketmaster fees (which I apparently can't), then you can still have a fairly affordable experience at under $25 for ticket, drink, and food.
This is the first arena I have encountered which has a banner dedicated to its mascot, so that was pretty unique. Otherwise, I did really enjoy watching the antics of current head coach, Keith Dambrot. There is also that picture of Bob Huggins (circa mid-80's) which I found rather humorous "" both for its size and to see Huggins as a young up-and-coming coach.
Be sure you dress in layers when you visit Akron's Rhodes Arena because it was rather hot in that gym. Akron has a bit of an old high school gym feel, and wherever you sit you can be sure to have a good view of the action on the court. Consider looking over the schedule for a possible MAC doubleheader at Akron and Kent State.
The JAR is the definition of average, as is the food, but the fans are above average.
2939 S Arlington Rd
Akron, OH 44312