Like me, your knowledge of Daytona Beach probably extends to endlessly-retold lore: beautiful beaches; amusements reminiscent of Coney Island, the Jersey Shore (no, not that god-awful show, long before that was invented), and Ocean City, Maryland; and a race that starts on the beach and ends up in every red-state residents' house. In fact, I've been to Daytona probably three-dozen times, yet — like the rest of Florida south of St. Augustine — it's been nothing more than a quick passthrough on Interstates 4 and 95 on my way to the North and back. Well, as I learned on this assignment, there's more history in Daytona than the France family will have you believe.
Travel up U.S. Route 92 (a.k.a. International Speedway Blvd) toward the Atlantic Ocean and, seemingly out-of-place, you'll discover two intersections made of pavers shaped to look like a compass. If you turn north on one of those streets (Lincoln St or MLK Blvd), you'll be on the boundary of one of the oldest historically black universities in the state, Bethune-Cookman University. Founded by famed educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune in 1904, the school — through mergers and other milestones — became "B-CU" in 2007, having been upgraded from Bethune-Cookman College, a title it had held since 1941. And on this compact city campus lies the historic Moore Gymnasium, home of the Wildcats' basketball and volleyball teams.
Built in 1954, the Moore Gymnasium, like the rest of this campus, has a certain charm that comes with age. Sure, it's not flashy, nor is it really comfortable, but when you're looking for history, deep-rooted school pride, and boisterous fun, there's no better place I'd rather be.
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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".
Part of the charm in this venue is how much it reminds me of my high school gym, especially the food. There's nothing fancy here: hot dogs, nachos, sausages, chips, candy bars, and soda/water pretty much cover the menu, but the thing about it is, it's served in the oldest-of-old-school ways: a 2 foot by 2 foot window built into the wall in a booth no bigger than my closet with two of the nicest people they could find. The best part is the fact that I bought a hot dog, chips, water, and candy bar for — get this — $6.50! I think I spent that much just on tolls to avoid downtown Orlando to get here.
And yes, this is the only concession window in the facility.
The food's nothing special — though it's not bad — but the nostalgia more than makes up for that. And strangely enough, something that basic didn't seem all that out of place; in fact, I welcomed it, as the overall ambiance probably would have been destroyed with something more technologically advanced to replace it.
Let's face it: being more than 60 years old, you know without reading any further the Gymnasium is neither flashy nor technologically-equivalent to most arenas reviewed on Stadium Journey. That said, with what they have to work with, B-CU has made the arena feel both intimate and inviting despite all its obvious shortcomings. The benches — all wood — were just freshly painted (so recently that I still smelled the paint when I walked in), the walls decorated with posters of past players that passed through these halls, and new banners declaring, with pride, who they are and what conference they represent.
The sound system is kind of hard to hear when the crowd is going (which is pretty much at all times), and the scoreboards are in need of some updating — especially since they still say "BCC" — but that's all irrelevant. The marching band, "The Pride", is spectacular...and LOUD! Between them — playing on media breaks and trust me, you WON'T miss them — and the cheerleaders, if you weren't pumped up, you have no pulse and should seek medical help. Those two groups make the experience exponentially better!
Well, there's not really a neighborhood of which to speak. Yes, you're about five minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, but that's driving. Otherwise, it's mainly residential or, if you're on US 92, strip malls and chain stores. Plus, admittedly, the residential areas around the campus seemed a little sketchy. Don't get me wrong, the campus is safe and well-lit, but I'm not 100% convinced I'd stray too far away at night if I'm not in my car.
Forget everything I said about the Amway Center, THESE are the best fans in Florida, the gold-standard of how fans should act. Never before have I seen a 3/4-full arena for a women's match...WOMEN'S! They love their basketball here, and they love their teams more. The band didn't show until the men's game, but they didn't need to; the crowd stayed pumped on its own.
Then, the men's game started. Not only was it only about two seats short of a packed house, the band crowded in, and the crowd ignited even more. They even loudly — and proudly — had a few rituals of their own:
— When a substitution would take place for the other team, they would gracefully educate the leaving player on how to move, "LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT...." and what to do next, "SIT DOWN!!!" followed by an ever jovial, "BOOOOOOO!"
— A player from the opposition, during each shift, would be singled out in a chorus of boos, though they weren't always criticizing him...they did cheer when he made a pass.
— Any opposing player accused of ball-hogging and not being a team player would be called-out with reckless abandon.
The whole time though, it was respectful and never with ill intent, and the language was always kept, at most, PG-13, so they know how to razz the opposing team but keeping their cool, something which no other fans I've discovered in Florida seem to have been able to find the perfect mix.
The school is very easy to find (drive toward the Ocean on US 92 and you'll see it on the left), though the Gymnasium wasn't as easy. Again, since all the buildings are pretty old, they all have the same brick façade, so they all blend in to each other. After asking a student in one of the numerous parking lots, I was directed to where I was heading (if coming from US 92, turn north on Lincoln St and make a right by the campus security building, then drive until you see the fountain; it's the building on your immediate left). Parking was plentiful, but don't park in student/administrator-only parking.
The concourses are kind of narrow and there's only one set of standard-issue school bathrooms. Both concourses and bathrooms are small and outdated, yet clean and functional (though there was a problem with the men's bathroom's main door not shutting).
The night I attended was only, according to one of the administrators I spoke with, the second time ever the basketball team was featured on TV. This is because this is a really-good team: they're currently 2nd in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and poised to make a run for the crown. If they can win and make it into March Madness this year, that will definitely increase their recruiting potential and make them the private school to go to in Florida for years to come.
For your $5 ticket, you get a great night of both basketball and prideful nostalgia, so how can that small of an investment be wrong?
The campus oozes history and looks like something out of the '50s. The brick buildings and wrought-iron fencing screams a certain charm of a lost era. I can't help but feel like I stepped through a time warp pulling into the campus. Any history buff can appreciate that.
Also, I can't leave out the world-famous beach and world-famous racetrack for which this city is most-known. I may have mentioned them prior, but they are some big extras that should never be ignored in any conversation using the word "Daytona".
In almost every section, I used the word "pride". This isn't my inability to use a thesaurus; the students, facility, and administrators of this school all exude a huge amount of pride, and it shows in everything they do. They beam at the thought of being a part of this great institution, and rightfully so.
They may not have the most high-tech, glamorous, destination-filled facility in Florida — in fact, I'd say it's pretty much the antithesis of that. Yet, they don't need me or themselves to tell you it's not the quality when compared to ultra-modern arenas, but how you make due with what you're given; all you need to do is go to a game and experience for yourself that, while it may have shortcomings, it's a place you definitely shouldn't miss.
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