Known as the Free State and the Old Line State, Maryland possesses another nickname as well, 'America in Miniature'. The nickname was thought of and grew in popularity because of the diversity in the landscape throughout the state, despite being just 42nd out of 50 in total land area. If you want to go to a college near the beach, schools like Salisbury University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore have campuses near Ocean City, the most popular beach resort in the state. If you want to go to school in a big city the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Morgan State University are some options for you with campuses inside the city of Baltimore. Not every area in Maryland is urban and crowded, however. For students who enjoy the open roads and clear skies, Mount St. Mary's University is a great option.
A private Catholic university in Emmitsburg, Maryland, MSM is the oldest independent Catholic college in the United States, the second oldest Catholic college behind Georgetown and enrolls a total of about 2,100 students. Established in 1808, Mount St. Mary's rests on 1,400 acres right in front of the Catoctin Mountains, giving the school a beautiful backdrop as well as the reasoning behind MSM's athletics nickname the Mountaineers.
Officially the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers but often shorthanded as simply The Mount, the university's athletic teams are members of the Northeast Conference (NEC) in Division I. The NEC was established in 1981 and added Mount St. Mary's from Division II in 1989. Mount St. Mary's is one of five schools in the 12-member NEC that do not have a football team, which puts more focus on the men's basketball team. Since moving to the top division in 1989 the Mountaineers have been the conference regular season champion once, in 1996. The automatic bid to be a part of March Madness though goes to the NEC Tournament Champion and the Mountaineers have won the tournament and been part of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship Tournament three times (1995, 1999 and 2008). In 2008, the Mountaineers were participants of the "play-in" game to earn a 16 seed. Mount St. Mary's defeated Coppin State University, also located in Maryland, in that game for their first NCAA Tournament win in school history.
Knott Arena has been the home of the Mountaineers since 1987. The arena is in the middle of the pack in seating capacity compared to other schools in the NEC with a capacity of 3,121. As part of the Knott Complex located across the street from the main Mount St. Mary's campus, Knott Arena looks very good for its age, and while there isn't much in the stadium experience here that will knock you off your feet, a trip to Knott Arena is an inexpensive way to enjoy basketball, especially with kids.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Knott Arena is extremely small, first and foremost. There is one main hallway to get inside, buy tickets, hand in your tickets, get food, enter the stands, see the memorabilia and go to the bathroom. In short, there's not much room to wander. You will find two concession stands down the hallway, both with the exact same menu. The bad news is that the selection is average, at best. The good news is that the prices are some of the cheapest I've ever seen at a college or professional level. Soda (Pepsi products), bottled water and Gatorade (yellow, red and blue) are all $3. Hot dogs and pretzels are $3 as well while popcorn, nachos and krispies are $2. Cookies, chips and candy are $1.
That's the full menu. Both concession stands are cash-only, although there is a PNC Bank ATM in the hallway. A good friend and I ended up spending just $11 between the two of us for a late lunch (pretzel, popcorn and two Gatorades). Both concession stands have two cashiers, and when I went at halftime, the lines were about five or six fans deep. The lines moved pretty quickly, though, and took no more than five minutes, at the most. The food at Knott Arena is nothing over the top, but it was definitely sufficient and the prices were extremely fair.
When purchasing a ticket for a game at Knott Arena there are three options to choose from; general admission, Section 5 and Blue Arm Chairs. General admission lets you sit in any bleacher section except Section 5. Section 5 is the lower bleacher section positioned near center court on the south side of the court. Blue Arm Chair seating is for the entire lower section on the north side of the court and, as the name suggests, consists of regular arm chairs instead of bleachers. Sitting on hard bleachers could cause some discomfort, but this option allows plenty of legroom. Kicking the bleachers gives off a vibration which makes it louder when the game is in crunch time, but just annoying when a kid is kicking the bleachers out of boredom. The seats were clean when the game started, and due in part to the fact that the venue is so intimate, there is no such thing as a bad seat at Knott Arena.
The first big thing I noticed about the atmosphere was how many kids came to the game. Boys and girls as young as five or six were at the game with their families, as well as young teenagers and high school students. I would guess that the parents of some of these kids were Mount St. Mary's alumni, but I think the main explanation for why there was so much youth in the stands at Knott Arena was because of the affordability. The food mentioned above and the tickets (which will be mentioned later) are all very cheap in comparison to some of the other venues in the area and across the nation. The campus is also in a very safe area, which gives parents that peace of mind that they might not find in big cities like Baltimore or Washington, DC. Mount St. Mary's doesn't push a certain kind of atmosphere though, child-friendly or otherwise. There is no mascot and there was really only one intermission activity during the course of the game; a fan getting thirty seconds to make a layup, a free throw and a three-pointer in order to win a gift card.
Surprisingly, there was absolutely nothing going on during halftime on my visit, which ran about fifteen minutes. All that happened during the entire fifteen minutes was the playing of today's dance and pop hits through the speakers. A lot of fans knew or realized this and filed out to get something to eat, go to the bathroom or do whatever they needed to do. Still, I was very surprised with the lack of halftime entertainment. It might be a good idea to share some first-half statistics or play some trivia. The two main announcements they made were for Glory Days, a restaurant thirty minutes away in Frederick, and to remind fans to be respectful and civil while cheering for the Mountaineers. The 'respect' announcement itself was made at least four or five times throughout the duration of the game.
There are two scoreboards behind each baseline that give a running tally of the score, time left, half and team fouls. There is also a scoreboard hanging over center court, but it was not being used on the night I attended. There are several banners hanging behind both baselines and over center court that pay recognition to different accomplishments. Three retired jerseys, NCAA Tournament appearances, NEC tournament championships and longtime coach Jim Phelan's amazing 830 career wins between 1954 and 2003 are among the milestones that are memorialized within Knott Arena. Some of the walls and much of the ceiling in the arena are made of glass, which means that when it's bright outside, sunlight comes in to help light up the venue and add a certain beauty to it. I would certainly back the notion that Knott Arena is prettier inside than many other venues, including some opened more recently than the quarter-century home of the Mountaineers.
There are not really any fan traditions that show up during Mountaineers games; no special motions during home team or opposing free throw attempts and no special chants in general at all. Several Mountaineers cheerleaders were present but actually spent most of the game sitting down on the front bleachers on the left baseline. All in all, the venue is easy on the eyes although the school doesn't contribute too much to the experience outside of the actual game. If you're going to the game with someone, make sure to bring someone who you don't mind making small talk with because that's what you'll probably end up having to do during almost all the intermissions. Luckily, the game I attended was very close, so everyone was interested and attentive until the final buzzer.
Most people would travel to Emmitsburg from out of town for one reason: a Mount St. Mary's athletic event. Emmitsburg's population in 2010 was just over 2,800. Aside from the university, the town is the home of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, National Emergency Training Center and Emergency Management Institute. The nearest notable city is Frederick, Maryland, which is about thirty minutes away. Baltimore is about 60 miles away and Washington, DC is about 70.
For residents of Emmitsburg, the appeal is certainly there. It is a place for agriculture and other outdoor hobbies, with a focus on Catholicism. It is also a place where little mom and pop shops seem to do well. The community seems very connected and the business rules are loose. My friend and I tried to stop by Holy Grounds Cafe after the game located on 2 West Main Street, and the sign outside said they closed at 6PM. It was a little after 4, but the door was locked when we tried to enter. The owner heard the noise and he let us know that they indeed had just recently closed for the day. If a store around where I live closed two hours early, the neighborhood wouldn't know what to do with itself. The Cafe's early closing seemed to speak a bit about the attitude in Emmitsburg; laid back, honest and very go-with-the-flow. The town seemed emptier than usual since the students were on break at the time, so the Cafe owner likely just decided it wasn't worth staying open the rest of the day.
When my friend and I went to Emmitsburg for the MSM game, it was the first time either of us had been in the town, and we discovered there are actually a few things you could do to make the most of the northwestern Maryland trip. We drove around the Mount St. Mary's campus, which was especially interesting because of the many Catholic statues and churches, including a massive Our Lady of Lourdes statue that sits in the mountains behind the campus. We also walked up and down West Main Street, which seems to be where many of the businesses in Emmitsburg are congregated, about three miles from the campus. I stopped by The Ott House Pub on 5 West Main Street, and would highly recommend it to anyone in town. It's both a bar and a restaurant and was obviously a popular place to hang out because of how well it seemed everyone there knew everyone else, other than out-of-towners like my friend and me. Still, the beer was good and the jalapeńo poppers were very hot at Ott House, which was decorated with firehouse badges from all across the country.
After leaving the pub, we realized there really wasn't much else to do. Had my friend and I not eaten at the pub, we had our eye on JD's Family Restaurant at 304 East Main Street, which jumped out at us due to the arcade room you could see inside through the outside window. Small-time restaurants are aplenty within Emmitsburg, with other places like The Palms, Rube's Crab Shack, Stavros Pizza and The Carriage House Inn but if you're not hungry, you're kind of out of luck in this town from a tourist perspective. While Emmitsburg was able to entertain me for the duration of a late afternoon, it would probably be a lot harder to stay interested on a return trip. It is still nice to see towns like this that remind you that not every place in this state is commercialized, however.
As I established earlier, many of the fans at the Mountaineers game I attended were kids. I went to a game at a time when the students were home for break, so I don't know how much this stays true during the fall and spring semesters. I hardly think that the game I saw was an aberration, though. It is definitely a safe environment for the kids, and the bleacher seats allow them to walk around freely and play a bit, as opposed to being stuck in one seat or one chair. Many of the adults that came to the game were wearing Mount St. Mary's gear, which leads me to believe they may be alumni or have some other direct connection to the school. The kids, of course, just care about seeing the game of basketball and seeing some neat plays. Many of the adults, whether it was because they had a connection to the school or not, really wanted to back the team and see them do well against this local non-conference opponent.
The Mountaineer student section goes by the name "Mount Maniacs" and has their own small section behind the left baseline. Even without a sizable student section turnout due to the fact that it was the middle of winter break, the fans at Knott Arena were certainly able to get loud during the course of the game. Because of the absence of a video board and the absence of any major contributions from the cheerleading team, most fan noise and participation has to be started by the fans. Some fans take this job seriously, starting and keeping up basic chants like "DE-FENSE!" and "MOUNT SAINT MARY'S!". Although the Mountaineers led for most of the game I attended, the lead was almost never more than four to six points, which helped to keep the fans very interested. I remember a span of about thirty seconds in the middle of the second half when the Mountaineers got called for about three different fouls, and on the third one, the fans really let their displeasure with the refereeing be heard. Overall the fans were what you'd expect at a college basketball game; interested and supportive.
Picture in your head a long stretch of road where there are no streetlights and nothing to see except for fields and odd shops. This will paint the picture of much of the trip to Emmitsburg, Maryland and the Mount St. Mary's campus. If you're leaving from Baltimore, most of your trip is on I-695N and MD-140W toward Westminster. For the last ten miles or so, you're driving on E Baltimore Street through Taneytown and it is literally a road with a 40mph speed limit that passes by a lot of open fields. Western Maryland is definitely known as the more agriculture-savvy part of the state, and it's rather obvious when you take just one trip to Emmitsburg. The trip is pretty simple, though, and it'd be hard to get lost. Parking at Knott Arena is extremely easy, as staff members help guide the cars coming into the open lots that are close to the stadium. There are no permits or restricted lots and all parking is free. There's no traffic, no tolls and you don't have to pay for parking.
Inside the stadium, there is one PNC Bank ATM that is accessible for anyone that needs cash. There are also a handful of event staffers that stand in the bleachers who can help you if you have any questions, and they are easy to spot with their red jackets. The restroom is passable and standard for this type of facility.
Cheap is not just the sound a bird makes; it's a day at Knott Arena. The entire Mountaineer experience is affordable, and based on price alone, quite the steal compared to other Division I arenas. Parking is free (as we mentioned) and you won't come across any toll roads. The food selection is average, but very affordable. As far as ticket prices, general admission (the unreserved bleacher seats) are $5 each. Section 5, which includes the center court bleacher seats, are $10 each. The Blue Arm Chair seats are $12 each. Additionally, kids under four years old are free. To me, the best seats are the bleacher seats. The seats are spacious and you still get to be very close to the court since it's such an intimate facility. As there is little fan interaction, you really have to be interested in the basketball game to get a good experience out of Knott Arena.
I will give one point for the historical banners, memorabilia and Mount St. Mary's Hall of Fame, all of which can be viewed within Knott Arena.
A massive second point is awarded for a little bit of coaching history. Many people don't know about Jim Phelan and the basketball legacy he made at Mount St. Mary's not only on the school level, but also on a national level. Phelan, the coach of the Mountaineers between 1954 and 2003, was just the fourth coach in college basketball history to get 800 wins and currently sits seventh on the all-time list behind names like Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. The court at Knott Arena was renamed Jim Phelan Court, the NEC Coach of the Year Award is named after Phelan and in November 2008, Phelan was inducted in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The Mountaineers were in Division II for the majority of his coaching days, and Phelan led the Mountaineers to sixteen Division II Tournament appearances, five Division II Final Fours and guided Mount St. Mary's to the 1962 NCAA Division II Championship, which the Mountaineers won 58-57 against Sacramento State. Phelan was also voted the Coach of the Year in 1962.
One last point will go to the scenery. The view of the mountains behind the Mount St. Mary's campus is stunning and really quite beautiful. It's easy to forget about nature when you're stuck in a city or any urban setting. Three extra points; which equal the number of NCAA Tournaments for which the Mountaineers have qualified (1995, 1999, 2008).
This is one of those times when the overused mantra "you get what you pay for" can be used. The tickets are cheap, the food is cheap and the parking is free, but it's sort of like watching a basketball game on television. Unless the game is close, you may lose interest quickly since there isn't much else to pay attention to. Emmitsburg seems like a great small-town community but if you're just visiting, you may struggle to find entertainment choices. Mount St. Mary's University does have a lot of historical significance in regards to its Roman Catholic affiliation; again, MSM is the second oldest Catholic college in the entire country. Even if you're not of this faith, the statues, buildings and backdrop of the Catoctin Mountains are rather stunning in their beauty. All in all, I would say the Mountaineer experience is worth a shot. The view from the stands is clear, the surrounding area is unique and everything's cheap enough that if you end up not liking the trip, all you have to lose is a tank of gas.
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