Looking at a picture of Memorial Hall in Dover, DE from the outside, you would probably think it was an academic building where they taught a subject like science or math. However, there is only one subject taught in Memorial Hall, and that is the subject of basketball. Located on the outskirts of Delaware State University’s campus, a public and historically black school with an outstanding College of Business, Memorial Hall is home to the Delaware State Hornets and Division I basketball. DSU, as it is very often abbreviated, is a founding member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which was established in 1970. The now 13-member MEAC began playing basketball in 1972 and, since 1981, the conference tournament champion earns an automatic qualifying bid for NCAA postseason play.
In the 30-plus seasons that Delaware State has played Division I basketball, the Hornets have only had a quick flash of glory. DSU was the MEAC regular season champion from 2005-2007 and won the conference tournament in 2005, securing them the automatic bid to the 2005 NCAA Tournament. The Hornets also made the NIT Tournament in 2006 and 2007. Other than those three years, however, Delaware State has not made much noise in the conference, let alone the national scene.
In size, Delaware State University, named Delaware State College between 1947 and 1993, is near the bottom of the MEAC, as well. There are around 3,600 students enrolled at DSU, making it the smallest school in the conference. Meanwhile, Memorial Hall has a capacity of 3,000, tying it with Bethune-Cookman for the second smallest basketball arena in the conference. Don’t let the size fool you, though. The experience at Memorial Hall during a Delaware State basketball game is not something to just ignore, even though there are some concerns that come with the Hornets experience.
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One important note that I will expand on later is, based on my experience, a large majority of the fans at Delaware State University games are students. As such, they must expect them all to eat beforehand at the dining hall or elsewhere, because the food selection at Memorial Hall is mediocre at best. There is one concession stand that is manned by two or three employees on the far side of the hall. The stand has a small grill for hot dogs and hamburgers and also sells chips, popcorn, pretzels, soda, water and Gatorade. The popcorn seems to be a popular sell. With that said, there were no prices listed for any of the items anywhere. I found out a hot dog was $4 and a Gatorade was $1.50, but only because I had to ask an employee as I was buying it.
No food or beverages of any kind are allowed once you enter the hall, so the concession stand is your only option if you are hungry or thirsty at the game. This includes alcohol. No alcohol is allowed or served at Memorial Hall. The worst part, however, is that the stand is cash-only, and there are no ATMs in the hall. It is understandable to only take cash when you have a small venue, but to not have an ATM was a huge disappointment. The concession line was relatively long before the game started and at halftime and it didn't seem to move very fast, since there were only three people behind the counter and cash is a slower transaction.
If I ever go back to Memorial Hall, I could obviously prepare better and have cash in my pocket going in. But as a first-time fan, that was a big disappointment and something to take strong note of for anyone else wanting to go there and hasn't yet visited.
I am a newcomer to MEAC basketball, but if this is the kind of atmosphere that is in every basketball game in this conference, I am impressed. First of all, there were about 40 or so DSU student band members in the far left bleachers, filling up about half of the section. It's a very strong presence with all the works; drums, cymbals, tubas and clarinets. Remember that this is a small indoor gym and you can understand how the sound vibrates and fills the hall. The marching band played the Star Spangled Banner with no vocals before the game started, which was actually a nice touch. There was a friendly Hornet mascot that made his way around the hall several times, although there weren't many young fans there at the game.
There are four places where you can sit if you're going to a game and you're not a student: general admission, reserved seating, executive seating and courtside. General admission is on the south side of the court and is typical bleacher seating. Reserved and executive seating are on the north side and are like the fold-down seats you see at movie theaters, but without cupholders. Executive just means that your seat is near the center of the court. Courtside speaks for itself and is on the south side as well, near where the media sits. It is apparent that this is also a recreational gym, because there are actually six baskets in the gym; the four side baskets are pulled up for games.
One unique item about Memorial Hall was that both Delaware State and UMES had cheerleaders and step dancers at the game. UMES is about ninety minutes from Dover, and so, while it's not cross-country, it's also not just around the bend. Both cheer squads were on opposite sides of the court, lined up on the baselines, but at times, it seemed as though this was actually a cheerleading and dance meet where a basketball game just happened to break out.
Even more surprising was the fact that the UMES step dancers were announced and performed a short dance number in the middle of the DSU court during a media timeout in each half. I am not sure if this is common in the MEAC, but it is uncommon in most arenas to have visiting dancers perform during a game. The UMES dancers' performance had a huge positive, though, because it enabled me to check off another item on my bucket list, 'witness a crowd boo a group of cheerleaders.' I didn't think it was possible, but that's predictable when the away team's cheer squad is on the home team's floor. The DSU dancers performed twice on midcourt as well and received heavy applause.
The PA announcer is enthusiastic and thorough, keeping everyone up to date on the action. Every time the possession changes, you will hear 'Hornets Basketball!' throughout the gym. There is also a DJ playing music during timeouts and intermissions. Every time a DSU player shoots a free throw, many of the members in the Hornets marching band put their hands up in a way that sort of resembles a hornet. There were also some fun games at halftime of the game I attended, including one where a student volunteer took three shots from half court while completely blindfolded (obviously to little avail) and on the third shot, the halftime emcee would react as if the blinded volunteer successfully made the shot and urged the crowd to go along with it. No one was fooled but it was still worthy of a good-hearted laugh.
There are two large scoreboards on either side of the gym with the essentials: points, time left, half and team foul counts. There are also four large banners hanging from the left and right side of the gym with some DSU basketball highlights, including Delaware State being the MEAC regular-season champion in 2005 and 2006, having the coach of the year, Greg Jackson, in both those years and making the NCAA Tournament in 2005 to play the Duke Blue Devils.
From the outside, the venue definitely does not look like anything special. Even inside, Memorial Hall doesn't scream 'Beware!' to opposing teams. There are also no shops in the stadium to buy Delaware State gear. DSU puts a lot of work in their cheerleading and dance squad, however, which adds a lot to an atmosphere to a smaller venue.
There's something to be said for a good college town. I will always be biased to Lawrence, Kansas, but any city or town that has a special feel to it on gamedays wins a lot of points in my book. This is where Delaware State does not quite measure up. Dover is the second-largest city in Delaware (behind Wilmington), but at no point outside of the campus will anyone say, 'Man, I'm in Hornets Country now.' Most fans that go to Hornets games are students, and after the game is over, the majority of them walk back to their dormitory, apartments or elsewhere on campus and go about their day. There is no tailgating, and there are no big restaurants that seem to be a popular post-game place for students or fans. Almost every place close to the DSU campus is a widely-available chain, including Sonic, Bob Evans, Wendy's, Chuck E Cheese, Staples and K-Mart. Dover Mall is across the street, but it does not have a very impressive selection.
The most impressive part of the neighborhood would have to be Dover Downs, or as NASCAR fans know it, Dover International Speedway. Dover Downs is a hotel, casino and a speedway where a NASCAR race is held for two separate weekends every year. It sits on the other side of North DuPont Highway from DSU's campus and would be an experience all by itself. If you have no interest in gambling, there are few options outside of Memorial Hall. I did not venture too far, but safety was never a concern since it's on college grounds. One student helped point me in the right direction of the basketball hall as I drove into campus. There's nothing necessarily wrong with Dover, but nothing truly stood out, either.
If I had to guess, I would say that at least seven or eight out of ten fans at the game were Delaware State students. Since it's such a small school and so many of the students seem to go to the Hornets games, there is definitely a very friendly feeling within Memorial Hall. Students often come to the game with friends and then see several more just walking past the general admission bleachers. Obviously, this hardly affects you if you're a non-student coming to the game, but it attests to the fact that the games are very comfortable and friendly to go to. The general admission and student seats were packed when the game I attended tipped off; this was made possible from the student overflow, as DSU students filled up the entire student section and most of the general admission seats. The reserved and executive seating on the other side of the court was probably about 70%-75% filled. There were a respectable amount of UMES fans that sat in the reserved seating behind the UMES bench. They were able to get pretty loud when UMES went on a run midway through the first half, but DSU had this game under control almost throughout, and so the Delaware State faithful stayed much louder and much more spirited.
Many students had on a Campus Activity Board shirt that was black and said 'WE ARE DSU' on the front. It seemed to be a school spirit declaration and showed student unity. The reported attendance at the game was 1,528 out of 3,000 capacity. It definitely felt more than half-full, though, since it was the MEAC opener against an opponent that is very geographically close. Most fans stayed until the final buzzer. The dance and cheer teams seem to be a sense of pride at Delaware State and many students really enjoyed watching the routines, perhaps because a friend was performing or because they wanted to one day perform on the team themselves.
There weren't many young kids at the game I attended, and I would say it's because a Hornets game isn't the most child-friendly environment. The music played is what you might classify as nightclub music and while the lyrics are obviously censored, it's still not always clean. Moreover, the dancers' routines are definitely PG-13. The Hornet mascot is a nice touch, and there certainly were some younger fans that seemed to be having a good time so, as with anything in life, it's a personal call if you have kids. There was no profanity or loud arguing, the band was good and the atmosphere was positive and fun. It is just important to remember that Delaware State basketball knows its demographic, and that is 18-22 year old DSU students.
Getting to a Delaware State basketball game is very stress-free. Dover is about a two-hour drive from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, and about three hours from New York City. Coming from near Baltimore, there are several routes you can take. The south route will take you through Severna Park and Annapolis and you'll be able to cross the water on the Bay Bridge. You'll then have a choice whether you want to stay on Route 301 or turn right onto 304. Either way, you'll get there about the same time. The northern route runs close to Baltimore and you cross the water at around Havre De Grace, on I-95 North. You pass Newark and exit on US Highway 1, which you will follow for about 30 miles. I highly recommend the Annapolis route, even if you live in Baltimore. It takes nearly the same amount of time but is about 20 miles less, because it's a lot less highway. The trip from Annapolis to Newark to see Delaware Stadium totals $12 in tolls. The Annapolis route to Dover, however, costs only $4 in tolls.
Once you're near the campus, you'll find that there is no extra traffic on Hornet gamedays. Since most of the fans are students who just walk to the hall, there is no logjam in the parking lot, either before the game or afterwards. Another perk is that parking is completely free. There is a large parking lot that is within walking distance from Memorial Hall, and it doubles as a parking lot for basketball and football, as Alumni Stadium, where the Hornets play FCS football, is very close by.
Memorial Hall prohibits several items, including outside food or beverage, strollers, large bags or containers, artificial noise makers and weapons. Speaking of weapons, security and university police presence is strong during the game, making sure no one wanders on the court during timeouts. There was no way of knowing if that has been a problem before, but it certainly wasn't the afternoon of this game. Handicap access is very adequate, there is a no-reentry policy and there is one bathroom in a small hallway just outside the gym which was clean and operational.
The part that still kind of surprises me is how there was no sign or poster or marking outside of Memorial Hall that told you, well, that the building was Memorial Hall - Home of the Hornets. It would be great if DSU really 'owned' Memorial Hall, providing an indication that this is their home. As I learned, first-time visitors may have a hard time recognizing the venue.
The prices for the tickets are as follows: general admission bleacher seat for $10, reserved seat for $12, executive seat for $15, courtside for $25. Again, general admission are still filled with mostly students, because after the student section sells out, which I would guess happens fairly often, students have to pay $5 for their own general admission seat to attend. In the case of this stadium journey, the cheapest ticket is the best seat. Being in the general admission section allows you to get the complete experience and be around very enthusiastic fans. The visiting fans sit in the reserved seats behind the visitors' bench, so that would be something to remember when choosing your spot. Since it's such a small gym, there really isn't a bad seat in the house, so there's no need to splurge on your tickets at a Delaware State game. Courtside is $15 more per person and the only perks are that you are about five feet in front of the bleachers and you have your own seat.
Parking at Delaware State is free and the nearest comparable basketball venue outside Dover is in Newark at the University of Delaware, about 45 minutes away. A Delaware State game offers few frills, but you get a satisfying experience for the entire two hours or so, and it costs less than a movie ticket.
There is a Delaware State University Athletic Hall of Fame when you walk in Memorial Hall that jumps out at you with the names of several athletes that spans almost two decades. Though there were few immediately recognizable names on the board, it is good to see the university honoring special students and coaches in their athletic history across several sports like softball, football, volleyball, wrestling and track.
A second extra point was earned by the cheerleading and dance teams, which were at times even more entertaining than the game.
One final point was given for how close you can get to the court. I was on the bottom bleacher seat in general admission, a seat any fan could sit in for $10, and my feet were probably six feet from the sideline. I saw one Hornets player fall trying to save a loose ball and land about a foot away from me, and when another DSU player got hot in the first half, he kept lining up and sinking three pointers from the bottom corner about seven feet away from my seat. The fact that you can be so close to the actual court really adds to the intimacy of the experience and atmosphere at Memorial Hall.
After getting home from the game, I told a family member that Memorial Hall kind of had the atmosphere that you would encounter at a good high school basketball game. I don't mean this as an insult at all. During high school games, students are the ones that pack the stands, and while the fans may not know the name of every basketball player, they cheer loudly and passionately because of the school name that the home team wears on the front of their jerseys. There's a lot of emphasis on the cheer squad, the dance squad and the marching band. No one's counting how many points the starting point guard has or whether anyone has a double-double. When a substitution is made, no one can tell the difference between who's off the court now and who's on. What everyone does is look at the scoreboard and when Delaware State has more points than their opponent as the final buzzer sounds, cheering ensues and the fans go home satisfied with the performance.
Three MEAC teams have gone to the NCAA Tournament as a 15 seed and upset the 2 seed since 1981. There is a real feel of togetherness and closeness in the atmosphere of a Delaware State basketball game, one that you won't feel in many other college arenas. There can be some concerns with the experience, especially if you make the mistake of coming without any cash. Still, there is a definite sense of pride when you are a Delaware State Hornet, and even if you're just visiting and become a Hornet fan for one night, it gives you a good feeling.
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