John M. Belk Arena, the centerpiece of the Baker Sports Complex, is nestled into a tree-filled corner of the gorgeous Davidson College campus. The Baker Sports Complex is an impressive multi-use athletic complex. In addition to the basketball arena, the complex includes an indoor tennis center, a natatorium, a wrestling center, racquetball & squash courts, a weight room, and many of the athletic administration offices. Opened in time for the 1989 season, Belk Arena is named in honor of former Charlotte mayor, and a former Wildcat basketball captain himself, John M. Belk. With a basketball seating capacity of 5,223, Belk Arena is big enough to pack in a good crowd but small enough to remain very intimate and intimidating to those visiting teams venturing into Belk to play the Wildcats. This home court advantage shows in the statistics. In the previous twenty seasons in Belk Arena, coming into this season, the Wildcats sport a winning percentage of almost 77%. Over the past decade, that number is even more impressive, with the home team winning 117 of 136 games on the hardwood at Belk.
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Concessions at Belk Arena consist mainly of one large continuous stand with approximately 10 serving lines, dubbed "The Wildcat Den", located at court-level directly below the Belk Arena foyer/lobby area. To reach this concession area, most of those attending a game will need to walk down a set of stairs just outside the main arena; an elevator is located adjacent for those needing assistance in circumnavigating the flight of stairs. Nothing too special here, it's typical mid-major arena fare: hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, popcorn, candy, & soda. Same could be said for prices: fair and reasonable. I did not partake in any of the food items so I can not attest to their quality, but it appeared a good many folks were supporting the concession stand so I must assume the items offered were quite good.
One feature of the concessions area that I did particularly enjoy was the seating area directly beside the stand. A good number of cafeteria-style tables are placed here allowing for fans to enjoy their food immediately after purchase. Pre-game, a number of these tables "" and there are quite a few "" were available, but I noticed that at halftime they were in short supply. For those who don't want to go too far from their seats for a bite, a few kiosks are available upstairs just feet from the arena. Those include Subway, Ben & Jerry's (which did not appear to be operating on this evening), and Prosciutto's Pizza, a local slice establishment which appeared to be quite popular.
Belk Arena offers up a design element that has a distinct air of academia to it, which is well-served on a campus as academically prestigious as this one. The Baker Sports Complex, clad in an all-brick traditional design with a hint of Georgian influence, keeps in theme with the majority of buildings on the Davidson campus. The arena is served by one unified entrance point, of which you access by walking through a courtyard area. Ticket windows are located here, directly adjacent to the entrance doors. Entry into the facility is quick and easy; there's no need for metal detectors or pat downs here. Once inside the facility, you will find yourself in a lobby/foyer type space, equipped with couches and plenty of spots to relax and wait for those late arrivals in your party. It is quickly apparent that the Baker Sports Complex, in its entirety, was designed with the student-athlete and their day-to-day usage of the complex in mind.
From the lobby area, large windows allow gracious views into the arena itself. All seats in the lower sections are of the chairback and armrest design, colored in a vivid red in honor of the Wildcats color scheme of Red, Black, and White. Especially of note is the interesting 7 or 8 rows of seating located behind each baseline, elevated approximately 10 feet off the playing surface. In these seats on one baseline is where many students, as well as the Davidson pep band, set up shop. General admission seats are located on the sidelines above the walkway break. The only true "bleacher" style seating can be found here, on the team bench side of the arena. There is a definite big gym vibe, rather than a small arena feel. Instead of a center-hung scoreboard Belk Arena employs two scoreboards located on the faĂ§ade high above each baseline, providing all pertinent gameplay information.
In one corner of the arena is a "rolling" merchandise/souvenir area. Although not a large selection, the quality appeared to be good and the prices were quite reasonable. The great thing is that you can do a little shopping while being only feet from the on-court action. Restrooms are adequate, though the larger facilities are located on the lower level, adjacent to the Wildcat Den concession area. Although not the largest venue in the Southern Conference, Belk Arena was clearly a well thought-out facility and as it enters its third decade of usage, it has yet to truly show its age and is well situated to provide a number of remaining years of service to the Wildcats which call it home.
A great part of the lure of attending a Davidson basketball game, in my opinion, is the quaint downtown which surrounds and envelopes the campus. Town/Gown relations are peacefully at play here. Davidson, North Carolina, has a distinct New England aura to it and this mixes well with the campus which has often been referred to as a "Southern Ivy". From any spot in the main downtown corridor "" which includes many great restaurants, boutique shopping, and even art galleries "" you are never more than a 10- to 15-minute walk from the front doors of Belk Arena.
Thus, it takes very little effort to find an excuse to drive into Davidson early and enjoy a pre-game meal or stay a little late for a post-game drink. Not to mention that the stroll from Belk Arena towards downtown will take you across a large portion of the Davidson campus, allowing you a peaceful walk across the quad. Two places that I must specifically mention is The Soda Shop, located directly on Main Street and Brickhouse Tavern located just off Main Street. Both offer great food and good times.
I am inclined to believe, based on my experiences, that the fans at Davidson are among the best, if not the best, in the Southern Conference. Basketball is clearly THE sport at Davidson College. Slightly fewer than 2,000 students call Davidson College home and it is not unusual for a large percentage of them to file into Belk Arena on any given night to cheer the Cats to victory. This is especially the case for big Southern Conference matchups or games against teams from the power conferences. This was the case the evening I attended as Kevin Stallings brought his preseason Top-10 Vanderbilt Commodores into Belk Arena, repaying a visit the Wildcats made to Nashville last season.
The pep band at Davidson is very active, playing more tunes than most pep bands you will encounter, and not to mention doing it with more spunk. The game against Vanderbilt was billed as a "Black-Out Belk" night. The student section here is somewhat reminiscent of a small Duke Student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium. They come prepared with chants, know their opponents, and are ready to be loud. I even noticed one student dressed as a lobster while another was dressed as a full-on Pope. Why? I'm still not quite sure. Whatever the reason, the Davidson student section was loud, probably partly contributed to the fact that finals were just beginning on campus and they were probably looking for any reason possible to blow off a little academic steam. In game entertainment is fairly standard, from two kids racing to the basket from half-court in adult-sized basketball garb, to the t-shirt toss courtesy of the lovely cheerleading squad.
A large surface parking lot is located adjacent to the Baker Sports Complex, but it appeared to be reserved for season ticket holders, media, staff, and those with handicap needs. Parking might exist on campus for single-game ticket holders but I have always chosen to park closer to downtown and walk to Belk Arena. Street-side parallel parking exists in many spots. Be sure to pay close attention to no parking or reserved parking signage, though most of these spots open up to the general public after 5pm.
Downtown Davidson also has multiple surface lots which are available free of charge and are easily accessible via directional signage guiding you to parking. Campus is relatively flat and very easy to walk. Sidewalks and crosswalks are kept in great shape. Once inside the facility access is acceptable. Elevator access is available should you need it. Walkways and aisle ways inside the arena itself are somewhat narrow but certainly not a problem and hand-railing is present in many spots, should the need exist.
Coach Bob McKillop, in his 19th season at the helm of the Wildcats, has led his team to the NCAA Tournament 5 times during his tenure, part of 10 NCAA Tourney appearances since 1966 for Davidson. Davidson is in the hunt for a Southern Conference championship virtually every season. Combine this rate of success with fair ticket prices and you have the ingredients for a high return on investment. Top-of-the-line season tickets to Davidson basketball will set you back $275 and single-game tickets can be had for as little as $7, with the highest priced single-game ticket going for $22. Throw in the fact that receiving at least one visit from a high major team each season is quite likely and an evening with Davidson basketball just makes good sense.
I have to give a shout-out to whomever was responsible for the selection of the singer to perform the National Anthem on the evening I attended. The young lady did a fantastic job! Also be sure to pause and take a look around the rafters and peruse the banners, saluting the many great Wildcat teams (such as the 2008 NCAA Tournament Elite 8 team), players (such as the Golden State Warrior's Stephen Curry), and coaches (the great Lefty Driesell, who led Davidson to two NCAA Tournament Elite 8 appearances, immediately comes to mind). The concluding highlight that is left in the memory of many who visit Belk Arena is the playing of the classic Neil Diamond hit, "Sweet Caroline", after a Wildcats victory. Players, students, and fans alike all join in on a rousing rendition of the song that has become the de facto Davidson College anthem. It's certainly an uplifting ditty to send you on your way.
If you're looking for a bit of Ivy League basketball flair mixed with the love of basketball which tobacco road harbors, then outside of visiting Duke for a Blue Devils game, a visit to Belk Arena is going to be your option of choice. Something about this campus and this arena just feels comfortable and that makes going to a game here a true delight.
There are a number of great venues in the Southern Conference, and Belk Arena ranks at or near the top of those venues. A lot of the key points of a game at Belk Arena were covered in the review, but there are a few things to add.
The surface lot adjacent to the athletic complex was the one in which I parked when I visited. There were no restrictions on its use on my visit. There may be an attendant on hand to guide you, but the school classifies it as visitor parking.
Davidson is within close proximity to a lot of schools in its conference, so there are a lot of "rivals" whose students will visit Belk Arena. This helps the atmosphere quite a bit, making for a pretty raucous event. The comments about the band are also accurate, as the band serves as one of the stars of the game.
There are also a number of historic venues both on the Davidson campus and around town, so if you want to make a day of it and take in some scenery and history, that is also an option.
For more information on the campus and the town, see my review on Davidson's football facility, Richardson Stadium.
104 S Main St
Davidson, NC 28036
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