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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The William & Mary Tribe have played in William & Mary Hall since 1971, opening the facility as a member of the Southern Conference. They joined the Colonial Athletic Association in 1982 and success hasn’t come easy for the Tribe, as they have only had six winning seasons in their 30 years in the CAA. W&M has been playing Division I basketball since 1948, and they are one of five schools that have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament during that period of time. They have been to the NIT Tournament twice in their history (1983 and 2010) and lost in the first round both times.
The gym inside William & Mary Hall was named Kaplan Arena in 2005, in honor of donors of the same name who have been supporters of the basketball program over the years. Kaplan Arena seats approximately 8,600 fans for basketball, and can be expanded to over 11,000 for concerts and graduations. Sly & the Family Stone performed the first concert at W&M Hall, followed over the years by famous artists such as The Police, Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead.
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".
Although there are three concession stands at Kaplan Arena, there were only two open at the game I attended. You can get a burger or fried chicken sandwich for $4.50 and your choice of hot dog or corn dog is available for $4. The chicken sandwich was a bit dry. There was a strong scent of popcorn ($3) in the air, and that was a popular choice with many of the fans. Pepsi fountain products are available, but at $3.50 for a 16-ounce cup that was mostly ice, this may not be the best choice. If you're thirsty, go with the bottle of water for $3 instead. For those with a sweet tooth, a small selection of candy will cost you $1.75 each.
As mentioned above, only two stands were open. That provided for some extremely long lines during halftime, and even well into the second half. If concessions are a must for you, it is recommended to purchase your food before the game or at a timeout before halftime.
Concessions are cash-only, and there is an ATM located at the box office if you find yourself short. With the many food options in Williamsburg, it is recommended to save your money for a nice post-game meal.
Upon entering Kaplan Arena, I was greeted by friendly security and ticket agents. They made me feel welcome and appeared to enjoy their jobs. If you park in the main parking lot and are picking up tickets at will-call or wish to purchase tickets, ensure you enter through the door at the far left of the front of the arena. It would be helpful if signage was posted outside the arena informing fans of this, as I went in another entrance and was directed to the correct entrance by one of the staff.
The mezzanine seats offer ample room, which enhanced my comfort level during the game. I sat in a few different areas in the arena and didn't find any seats with a bad view. This is one of the advantages of a smaller arena. The last few rows of the upper level are concrete bench-style seating, and it is recommended to avoid these seats..
There is a four-sided scoreboard hanging over center court that provides essential game information. It also contains a video board underneath that provides ads, pictures of home team players after they score and detailed stats for the players on the floor. It would be a nice touch if the detailed stats were permanently displayed, as those details enhance the basic scoreboard and are pertinent to the game.
It was noticeable that no pep band was in attendance on the day I visited. A pep band is a huge piece of college basketball, and not having that at Kaplan Arena is a missed opportunity. In addition, there were only four cheerleaders at the game, so when they did come out and perform a routine during a timeout, the crowd did not respond as they hoped. A pep band - even a small one - would create a more exciting atmosphere at Kaplan.
Kaplan Arena is located on the campus of William & Mary, so there is not much to do within walking distance besides a self-guided tour of the historic college. Colonial Williamsburg is a great place for a weekend getaway or a family vacation. There is so much to do in the immediate area and within an hour drive, it can not all be listed here. Visit Williamsburg is a great site that provides all the information you would need for your trip to the area.
If you are visiting the area, there is a variety of lodging available. Bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, hotels and vacation rentals are located throughout the area for all vacation budgets. Shopping galore can be found at any of the numerous outlet malls/shops and the specialty shops at Merchants Square downtown are a great place to find unique items to take back home as a memento of your trip.
A favorite recommendation for eating in Williamsburg is Sal's by Victor Italian restaurant. If you are looking for a great New York-style pizza, a visit to Sal's is a must. As a bonus, it is less than five minutes from Kaplan. The restaurant is in the corner of a shopping center and a little hard to find, but it is worth every penny. There are many fantastic places to eat in the area and a web search can get you connected with any type of cuisine you are looking for.
William and Mary fans are similar to fans at many other schools. There did not appear to be any special chants or habits that the fans have in supporting the home team; however, they cheered at the appropriate times and overall are respectful of the visiting team and the refs. It would be nice to see more fans in the seats, though. The most recent game I attended was a conference game against an in-state rival, and the arena was at about 40-percent capacity. It is worth noting that a majority of the fans stayed until the end of the game, which speaks to the loyalty of the fans that do attend.
Kaplan Arena is located on campus and is easily accessible. You can find very clear directions on the team's website. There is a public transit system in Williamsburg, and you can access the arena on the green line. If you have a car, it is recommended to drive in, as it would be much quicker -- and probably more economical, since parking is free. Getting off campus took about 15-20 minutes, which is not unreasonable, but I was surprised that law enforcement was not directing traffic in order to speed up the egress of fans from the campus.
Getting in the arena through security and the ticket taker is painless, and the main concourse is wide enough to keep traffic flowing. The only time there was congestion occurred during halftime, when the concessions lines were extremely long and fans were having to navigate through them to get around. The walkway around the main mezzanine inside the seating bowl can also get congested before the game and during halftime as fans are moving about, so be patient as you navigate around this area.
Restrooms are limited and small. There are two men's restrooms and three women's restrooms. They are located on the north and south side of the arena, with the extra women's room on the east side. If there is a large crowd, time your visits carefully, as lines can become long. Even though this is an older arena, the restrooms are very clean.
Mezzanine (upper-level) tickets are available for $10 for adults and $6 for youths at most games. In-state conference games will cost a little extra. If you are looking for something on the lower level, all ticket purchases require a gift to the 'Tribe Club', according to the university website. As this is a small arena, it is best to stick with the mezzanine level if you don't have friends or family that could provide you with the lower-level seats.
With free parking, the investment for a family of four comes in around $75 if you include a meal of a hot dog, chips and soda for each member of the family. This is not a bad price tag for a Division I game, and some minor concession upgrades would rate this a five-star category.
Five stars was not enough for the Williamsburg area, so we add one more here.
The arena has a 'reentry with ticket stub' policy. This is a great extra at any sporting event for those times I forget my glasses, camera, etc in the car and need to be able to retrieve them.
There are many entertainment options in the Williamsburg area. If you enjoy college basketball, head out to Kaplan Arena for a game. You might find a Tribe game a worthy diversion from the other things going on around Williamsburg.
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