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Official Review by Cory Sims, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Citadel Bulldogs have played their basketball games in McAlister Field House since 1939, making it the eighth-oldest college basketball venue in the country. The Citadel has been playing here longer than the Duke Blue Devils have been at Cameron Indoor, the Kansas Jayhawks have been at Allen Fieldhouse, or the UCLA Bruins have used Pauley Pavilion. Originally called The Citadel Armory, there’s no shortage of military feel in this stadium. That makes sense, considering the official name of the school is The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. It begins in the shape of the building itself, which calls to mind an aircraft hangar or a World War II era Quonset Hut. I could imagine that if they moved the bleachers into the walls, more than a few fighter planes could fit inside. Instead, when the bleachers are pushed back, there are three basketball courts and enough space for the basketball teams to practice, as well as football, track, and tennis during inclement weather. This venue has also been used for concerts, graduations, wrestling tournaments, and, in 2007, the Democratic Party’s edition of the CNN-YouTube Presidential debates.
When the bleachers are all pulled out for gameday, there are seats for up to 6,000 fans. That’s pretty large for a team in the Southern Conference, but the arena has still reached capacity more than a couple times in history. Even with 6,000 people filling every bleacher, the low-angle incline in the stands means that no seat is more than 24 rows from the court. There’s not a bad seat in the house. The Field House is right on campus, diagonally across from the lawn where the cadets practice marching, and a decommissioned Harrier jet spends its retirement. The team and its fans should be truly inspired for the basketball battle about to take place inside McAlister Field House.
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At least you can buy a Coke if you're hoarse from cheering? There's one concession stand that serves hot dogs, corn dogs and nachos. I imagine they could open more stands for more appealing games, but SoCon matches typically don't draw fans by the thousands. There is also a cart that sells kettle corn and cotton candy for the kids. My advice is to eat at one of Charleston's many excellent eateries, like the nearby Rutledge Cab Co., or the Butcher and Bee sandwich shop.
This rating would have been helped immensely if more than a handful of Citadel cadets had shown up for the game I visited. The school of more than 3,000 should be able to drum up more student support than we had at my middle school basketball tournaments. Instead, the crowd is mostly retirees (presumably who attended The Citadel 40-50 years earlier) and families with young children. What could have helped the noise level is a pep band of some sort. The Citadel is known for its bagpipe and drums band; why aren't they at the game? I'd love to hear "We Will Rock You" played on the pipes.
The biggest cheers come during media timeouts, when the school hosts small competitions between kids selected from the crowd. There is a team basketball relay, a "shoe shuffle" where eight or so kids have to run the length of the court, find their shoes and race back, and of course, the requisite t-shirt cannon. The school also employs a dog-handler who walks one of the mascots, a bulldog puppy, around during half-time. This was no doubt the highlight of the night for most of the kids in attendance, and the dog was quite pleased with all the attention. In summary, the atmosphere at a Citadel basketball game is much more family-friendly than it is hard-core athletic stakes.
The Citadel is a little too far from the Charleston Historic District for the average person to want to walk there, but it is just next door to beautiful Hampton Park and only a couple blocks from the riverside Brittlebank Park. The campus itself is also incredibly unique, loaded with many decommissioned military vehicles and artifacts. All of the campus buildings are meant to look like castles, which is fitting for a school called The Citadel. The houses in the neighborhood are mostly 100-plus years old, so a walk around the neighborhood can be just as visually stimulating as a walk around campus. If there were more restaurants within a couple blocks of campus, it would be a really perfect area, but alas, most of the great food joints are more than a mile south in downtown Charleston.
Again, I'm really shocked the cadets don't seem to care about the team, and I wouldn't say the families with young kids are die-hard Bulldog supporters. However, the fans who fill the reserved seats instead of the bleachers seem to follow the team with a passion. These are the men who appeared to be former cadets themselves, dressed uniformly in Citadel polos or oxfords, many of them with bulldog or palmetto-decorated belts. Their wives wear baby blue and navy sweaters, a nod to the hues of the Citadel jerseys. These are true fans, although sadly, they are in short supply.
Tickets are cheap and easy to acquire. The ticket office is open basically every day, and hours before tip-off. There is plenty of parking on campus, so no one walks more than the equivalent of a block to get inside the Field House. The low attendance means bathroom and concession lines are very short. There are no ushers to direct people to a seat, so most fans are happy to sit where they like. I was able to sit on the bleachers directly behind the bench and press row, try out a spot in the top corner, walk back and forth behind the baskets a couple times, take photos from the corner of the court, and sit in a real seat that was probably intended for a season ticket holder. I have never been to a venue where I felt closer to the action.
The good thing here is that tickets are cheap (starting at $5 at the box office), but the old adage "you get what you pay for" rings true. There often are promotions for free entry for fans who bring used sports equipment, who are Boy Scouts, state employees, or kids who are registered in the KIDet program. Besides a Division I basketball game, fans in attendance have a good shot at a free t-shirt from the cannon, can pet a baby bulldog, and sit anywhere they like in the arena. This is not bad for $5.
If you find yourself near The Citadel campus on a Friday afternoon, grab a seat for the weekly 3:45 parade practice. This takes place on the large lawn area in the middle of campus between the cadet barracks. Each company of cadets will march from the barracks, onto the field, where they will practice different formations and maneuvers. The bagpipe band and drums lead the way, providing a soundtrack for the show. With 3,000 cadets all lined up in their grey uniforms, you can't help but imagine it's how this field might have looked 150 years ago during the Civil War. You might remember from middle school history that the "War of Northern Aggression," as the Civil War is often called in the Palmetto State, began when shots were fired on Fort Sumter, an island fortress in the Charleston Harbor. What you might not know is that those shots were fired by Citadel cadets, who sided with the South and meant to drive the Union forces from the fort. I don't need to tell the whole tale here, but needless to say, the military history of The Citadel is tremendous.
Member Review by ianmccor on Apr 19, 2014
Lots of history here, although not always good when it comes to basketball. Seats more than enough, but is otherwise not able to accommodate modern D1 basketball.
1300 Rutledge Ave
Charleston, SC 29403
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