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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
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.
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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".
The lone concession stand offers the bare minimum at affordable prices. You can try the Panther Dog ($2.50), nachos ($3), or Pizza Hut slices ($2.50). Beverage options include Pepsi products for $2 and $3.50 depending on the size. Overall, it's a pretty unremarkable selection.
There are 8 rows of blue plastic bleachers across from the benches that are filled with the EIU students and the 50-member pep band. The pep band really is a highlight and they do a lot to add to a fairly dull atmosphere.
Billy, the panther mascot, does a great job of interacting with fans, especially kids during the game and pre-game. That effort goes a long ways towards helping to make a game at Lantz Arena a good place to take your family.
The majority of fans sit above a walkway that wraps around the court, and the seating is almost exclusively plastic blue bleachers that are relatively comfortable. Because the floor sits well below most of the seating area, fans have great views of the game action.
Lantz Arena is located just a block away from the main drag of Lincoln Avenue. You'll find several typical fast food chains and pizza joints. There are also some interesting local options that are worth checking out.
I started at the Panther Paw Bar & Grill, just to get in to the spirit of Eastern Illinois athletics. This is a great place to stop in either before or after a game. They have large tables, wide open spaces, and have the energy you expect in a college bar without being overbearing. There are 16 beers on tap and a menu consisting of burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers starting at $6. The burger was filling, and reasonably priced, but I can't say it was all that good. If you're coming after the game, keep in mind that they don't accept credit cards after 10pm.
Closer to Lantz Arena is another popular spot, Marty's. The bar is named after Eastern Illinois alum, and former MLB pitcher, Marty Pattin. This place is a little bit more edgy, and focused on the drinking experience. Most tables seemed to be ordering towers of beer.
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.
The student section was especially disappointing. The section was full, but there wasn't one moment, outside of a t-shirt toss, where even a majority of the section stood at once. Without the enthusiastic cheering of the pep band, it would have been one of the dullest fan bases that I have experienced.
Parking is free, and there are plenty of spots. Once you're inside the arena, it's easy to feel a little cut off since the top level and bottom level are not directly connected.
Bathrooms are long and narrow, but with so few people in the arena, you shouldn't feel too crowded and you certainly won't have to wait in line.
All seats in the balcony are only $7 and are general admission. For an extra $5 you can get a seatback and sit behind the benches. Frankly, you have a better view of the action in the $7 seat. Add in the free parking and low cost of food and you have a pretty inexpensive night. That doesn't necessarily make it money well spent. In this case however, even an underwhelming experience is probably worth the price of the ticket, a slice of pizza, and a soda for under $15 per person.
The Eastern Illinois Hall of Fame is worth a few minutes of your time before the game or at halftime. Located just across the hall from the concession stand, you'll find details on the Panther careers of notable names like Kevin Seitzer, Kevin Duckworth, Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton, Tony Romo, and Marty Pattin.
The walk through campus was also a very enjoyable experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone visiting Eastern Illinois University for the first time.
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1412 4th St
Charleston, IL 61920
810 W Lincoln Ave
Charleston, IL 61920