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Official Review by Chris Patton, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Eastern Illinois University has developed quite a reputation for churning out high quality NFL players and coaches. O’Brien Field has played home to Super Bowl winning coaches Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan, and All-Pro quarterback Tony Romo.
Next door is the Lantz Arena Complex, which serves as home to the EIU Athletic Department. Named after long time coach and teacher Charles Lantz, the facility is home to Lantz Arena, Lantz Indoor Fieldhouse and Ray Padovan Pool. The building also houses the Panther Athletic Academic Center, student recreation center and offices for coaching staffs and instructors.
Eastern’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, along with the volleyball squad, play in Lantz Arena. Completed in 1967, the venue has a capacity of 5,400. The Panthers are members of the Ohio Valley Conference.
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 concourse features only one concession stand, with the game day staples at affordable prices. Guests can try a hot dog, nachos, or a pretzel for $2.50. The most exotic food item on the menu are bosco sticks (breadsticks filled with cheese and served with a dipping sauce), which sell for $3.50.
Pepsi products are available for $2 and $3 depending on the size. One of the more popular items is slushies, served in a souvenir cup ($2.50).
The south balcony features the Panther Patio, open to fans over 21 years old and sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings. The patio includes seating behind a giant, blue curtain where you cannot see the game or a handful of tables where fans can eat and watch the game.
The lower level of Lantz Arena has eight rows of blue plastic bleachers across the court from the benches and scorer's table. These bleachers hold the subdued "Blue Crew" cheering section and a very lively pep band. The band does quite a bit to entertain the fans and cheer on the home team.
The lower level also features chair back seats directly behind the benches and scorer's table. These seats are mostly reserved for donors.
Most of the crowd sits in the balcony on blue plastic bleachers. Balcony seating is general admission and above a walkway that wraps around the court. The seats are comfortable and provide a good viewpoint.
The north end of the balcony features wooden bleacher seating, which is often hidden behind a big gray curtain. The end zone seating is only used in special circumstances for large crowds.
One of the best things about attending an EIU game is the number of contests held by the sports marketing team. There are several different shooting games including participation by students and fans. The cheerleaders even throw out samples of Jimmy John's sandwiches.
Lantz Arena, along with the rest of the Eastern Illinois athletic facilities, is located on the west side of campus between 4th Street and Grant Avenue. The building is just a couple blocks away from Charleston's main road, Lincoln Avenue.
The closest watering hole is Marty's, just across 4th Street from Lantz Arena. Marty's might be more of the college scene than you want if you are not a former student looking to relive your glory days. The bar is named after Eastern Illinois alum, and former MLB pitcher, Marty Pattin.
Dirty's Bar and Grill is right off of Lincoln Avenue and features an extensive food and drink menu. Dirty's promotes their six homemade sauces (Buffalo, Apple Q, Kansas City Style Q, Yum Yum, Sweet Chili and Honey Mustard) and their 20 specialty martinis. An order of ten chicken wings (tossed in one of the homemade sauces) is $8 and the specialty martinis start at $6.
If you are in a hurry and need something fast and reliable, why not get a sandwich in the town where the Jimmy John's sandwich chain started in 1983? The Charleston store is no longer in the original building, but the sign identifies the location as "Store #00001."
Make sure you take the time to walk through the small, but pretty campus before the game. The highlight is the Old Main Building, a castle-like structure dedicated in 1899. In front you'll also find a flagpole, and memorials dedicated to veterans and Eastern Illinois students who fought and died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
If I'm in Charleston, though, I'd consider heading a few miles out of the way to nearby Mattoon, Illinois and visit Burger King. The Mattoon Burger King is not related to the fast food chain and has been in operation since 1957. The family-owned restaurant features a variety of sandwiches and ice cream treats, but is best known for their burgers. A double cheeseburger, small fries and extra large drink costs less than $7 and is delicious.
The student section on the lower level seems to be at the game because they have nothing else to do. The section fills up, but most of the cheering is done by the band one section over. Groups of students sitting among the fans in the balcony are more into the game than the Blue Crew.
Parking is free, with plenty of spots in a lot right next to the building. The lot is used by students and faculty during the week before 5 PM, but basketball fans are free to use the lot for weeknight and weekend games.
Patrons enter Lantz Arena on the balcony level and use stairs to reach the lower level seats.
Restrooms are not the most spacious, but can more than handle the crowds at Panther games. The facilities are clean and well kept.
All seats in the balcony are a steal at only $7. Chair back seating on the floor is $12. You will have a clearer, unobstructed view in the cheaper seats. Factor that in with free parking and affordable concessions and you have an inexpensive night out. This is an especially good deal when Ohio Valley Conference heavyweights Murray State or Belmont are in Charleston.
Before finding a seat in Lantz Arena, it is highly recommended to walk through the Baker/Warmoth Hall of Champions. Located in the lobby of the Lantz Arena Complex, the history of EIU sports come alive through interactive displays and displayed jerseys. While the displays cover the football greats mentioned above, they also touch on long time professionals like Kevin Duckworth (NBA) and Kevin Seitzer (MLB).
Inside Lantz Arena, banners hang from the rafters honoring players who have had their jerseys retired and members of the school's all-century team. Banners are also displayed for conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently in 2001.
Eastern Illinois University's pride in their athletic accomplishments is evident as you walk into the Lantz Arena Complex. Once you are in the arena, you will find a comfortable venue for college basketball.
Member Review by paul
The NFL coaching cradle, Eastern Illinois University, can be found in Charleston, Illinois. Alma mater of Super Bowl winning coaches Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan, it is also the former home of All-Pro quarterback, Tony Romo.
But this review is about basketball, and the home court of the Eastern Illinois Panthers is Lantz Arena. Nestled into a cozy campus with buildings dating back to the late 19th century, Lantz Arena has a capacity of 5,300, and can be a comfortable place to watch some division I basketball out of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Member Review by pickell25 on Dec 17, 2014
I really feel bad for this school. The gym is hideous, the crowd is quite, the students sit, and the basketball is just...okay. I sat near the floor for $12, which is a little pricey for what you get.
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