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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Dukes of James Madison University play their home games at the Convocation Center, located on campus in Harrisonburg, VA. The 1982-83 season was the Dukes first one at their new home, and they opened in winning fashion versus in-state opponent VMI. JMU plays in the Colonial Athletic Association and is an original member of the conference, which was originally named the ECAC South until changing in 1985.
The JMU Convocation Center's current capacity is 7,156, and over the last 20 years, the Dukes have averaged over 4,500 fans a game. JMU has been to the NCAA Tournament four times and had five visits to the NIT tourney. Banners representing these accomplishments hang in the arena, along with their CAA championship from the 1993-94 season.
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 nothing special as far as food selection goes, but it is enough to curb your hunger at the game. Hot dogs ($4), barbecue sandwiches ($5.25, with slaw as an option) and cheese or pepperoni pizza ($4.25) are your main entree options, along with veggie dogs ($4) for the non-meat eaters out there. Popcorn, pretzels, nachos, kettle chips and candy are also available for snacking. Coca-Cola products are served at $3.50 for a 22 oz and $4.50 for 32 oz. The larger size comes with a souvenir cup that contains the lyrics to the JMU fight song, so you can sing along when the pep band plays it during the game.
Visa and MasterCard are accepted at the concession stands, and there were plenty of windows open throughout the first half and halftime, helping the lines move quickly. One area of note here is that the stands close at the beginning of the second half. I went out to get a drink with about 10 minutes left in the game and was surprised to see the stand closed. I asked one of the staff what time they close and he said at the end of halftime. I'm not sure if it depends on traffic flow or if that is typical game day protocol, but a sign or notice with closing time information would be helpful for fans.
Walking up to and entering the Convocation Center, I didn't get that feel of game-day excitement you get at many college arenas. There is plenty of room to navigate around the concourse, but I felt like I was in a hospital or large high school. There weren't a lot of fans milling about either, making the concourse area feel a little empty and sterile.
I was glad to see a different atmosphere inside the seating area. The first thing that greets you is the sound of the pep band. Loud and constant are two words that come to mind, but in a good way. They do a great job of leading chants/cheers, getting the crowd pumped up and playing music. For example, you can count on them to start counting down from five anytime the visiting team has 10 seconds left on the shot clock. That threw me off a little bit at first, but I got the idea. The pep band is complemented by the Dukes cheerleaders and dance team, who definitely get a workout before and during the game, as they are on the floor a lot during breaks in the action. The pep band sits in the end of the arena closest to the visiting team bench, so sections 105, 117 and 118 will get you closest to them.
When the cheerleaders and dancers aren't on the floor during timeouts, you will find your typical locally-sponsored events. The halftime entertainment for the game I most recently attended was a group of 'future JMU stars' versus - get this - a Google Droid, two Chick-fil-A cows, a Taco Bell hot sauce packet and the JMU mascot, Duke Dog. The kids had fun on the court and watching people in mascot costumes trying to dribble a ball managed to make me laugh - a little.
There is a four-sided scoreboard hanging over center court that gives you the most basic of game information. You will find additional scoreboards behind each basket that provide more details (players on court, fouls, points). These scoreboards are helpful, and make the center court scoreboard acceptable. The PA announcer does a good job blending in with the game, and after each 3-pointer will announce the scorer's name along with "J - M - U", followed by the crowd response of "Dooooooookes".
Located on campus, options within walking distance are pretty much non-existent. However, if weather permits, take a stroll around campus. Located in the Shenandoah Valley, there are many great photo opportunities along this scenic walk.
For an after-game meal, head over to Corgans' Publick House (yes, that's how you spell it) and enjoy an Irish pub experience. They have many great food options, a full bar, specials and live music at times. It's approximately a half-mile from the Convocation Center and a great place to hang out afterwards. Looking for something outdoors? Massanutten Ski Resort (30 minutes) and Luray Caverns (45 minutes) are both family-friendly options and close to Harrisonburg.
The most recent game I attended was a Saturday afternoon nationally-televised game against a conference opponent, and I was surprised at the lack of fans at that game. Announced attendance was a little over 3,200; however, I would estimate the actual crowd to be a lot less than that, based on the capacity of the arena. On the other hand, it was a 70-degree day in the middle of January, so who could blame those that stayed away for wanting to soak up the sunshine? For the fans that did attend, they were into it all the way until the end. With the combination of fans cheering and pep band playing, the arena kept a pretty good decibel level throughout the game. The game was pretty tight throughout the better part of the second half, and I did not notice many heading for the exits until the end of the game. The fans in the lower sections appeared to be more engaged in what was going on in front of them, so if fan interaction is important to you, I would recommend a seat with them.
The Convocation Center is located on campus on the east side of I-81. It is very easy to get to, and the university website gives very clear directions on how to get there. There is free first-come, first-served general parking in the A, B & E lots, which are located right next to the center. There appeared to be ample parking available at the game I most recently attended.
Getting in the arena was a breeze, as I was met by a smiling ticket taker who scans your ticket as you enter the building. The wide concourse makes getting around easy, and I never found it to be too crowded. Upon entering the seating area, there are ramps that take you down to the lower sections, and if you're sitting up higher, it is pretty easy to navigate to your seat. The walkway getting to the upper-level seats can be a little crowded during pre-game and halftime, but it didn't cause large traffic jams on the day I visited. Handicapped seating is available in the end nearest the home team bench and is easily accessible. Restrooms are found on both sides of the arena, with smaller facilities located behind the handicapped seating area. The restrooms are very clean and orderly.
Tickets can be purchased on the university website, and range from $8 for General Admission to $15 for tickets closest to the court. Treat yourself to the lower level seats, as the upper level are bench style and not quite as comfortable. With free parking available and food prices on par with what you would expect at a sporting event, you can find good value at a JMU basketball game.
The Convocation Center features a friendly staff. Whether picking up my ticket, getting in the arena, buying concessions or talking to ushers, everyone I came into contact with had a smile on their face and a pleasant attitude.
Check out the trophy case in the main concourse located on the side behind the player benches, where you can find memorabilia not only from the men's team, but also from the women's program.
Swing by Gate D after you enter the arena and pick up a free game program. The program is a nice color publication with information about JMU, the day's opponent, a scorecard and Convocation Center records and facts on the last page. Well done!
If you live in the area and haven't been out to support your local team, what are you waiting for? JMU offers a family-friendly and affordable experience, and I look forward to catching another game in the future.
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1762 S Main St
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
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