The University of Maryland Baltimore County, or UMBC for short, does what it can to separate themselves from the rest of the pack athletically. Amid the days of cliché mascots like the Wildcats, Tigers and Bears, UMBC is the only program in Division I or professional sports that is nicknamed the Retrievers, based off the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed. The school joined the American East Conference in 2003 as the tenth member before Northeastern University left in 2005. Unlike most other Division I conferences, the American East does not sponsor football, leaving basketball as its major pull on the national scene. Though the school’s time in the conference has so far been relatively brief, the Retrievers did find success in 2008, winning the American East regular season and conference tournament and reaching the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as a 15th seed.
UMBC play their home games at the Retriever Activities Center, or RAC. The RAC, opened in 1973, is home to the basketball and volleyball teams and seats just over 4,000 fans. It was originally called the UMBC Fieldhouse, but was renamed. On the whole, the RAC isn’t going to win Best in Show, but aided by a strong student band, excited dance and cheer teams and a very ideal location in the state of Maryland, the venue can occasionally show its teeth and come out as a fine place to watch American East basketball, even for visiting fans.
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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 concessions at the Retriever Activities Center are respectable, offering enough for a small meal or just a quick snack. There are two stands that are open on the concourse behind the right baseline which feature the same menu. Pizza by the slice is likely the hot menu item ($3 for cheese, $3.50 for one topping), along with hot dogs ($2) and nachos with cheese ($4). Other items on the menu include jumbo pretzels, popcorn and candy ($2), chips ($1.50) and fruit ($1). Bottled water is available for $2.50, while soda (Pepsi products) in a snazzy 32-ounce collector's cup is $3. Having two concession stands prevented a huge logjam as far as lines, which was great, especially during halftime. The service was quick and efficient, as I bought a drink and a hot dog, the latter being good though nothing special. A table with condiments was located to the left of both concession stands.
Decked in yellow and black, the RAC has seating on all four sides of the court, which is a perk in terms of home-court advantage. The seats behind each baseline and the upper seats on either sideline are bleacher seats, while the lower deck seats on each sideline are typical fold-down chairs. There is a walkway/concourse between the upper and lower sections that circles the RAC, allowing fans to walk around freely while still having a perfect view of the court action. The actual seats are comfortable and feature armrests, but there aren't any cup holders, and the aisles are such that if a fan in the middle of the aisle needs to get up and leave, he or she will likely need the others in that row to get up as well.
There are two scoreboards in the RAC, one behind each baseline. They both look the exact same and include time left, period, score, team fouls and the uniform number, points and personal fouls of each player on the floor for either team. The scoreboards are large and easy to read from anywhere in the center, but neither comes with video. There are signs all around the seating area, some being advertisements and some being UMBC-related ('Go Dawgs' near the left baseline bleachers). There is also a row of banners with the names of each school in the American East conference in alphabetical order, a nice gesture to each of the other schools against whom the Retrievers regularly compete. Banners hang behind the left baseline that recognize the accomplishments of the three teams that play in the RAC; men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball. Banners include 1998 Northeast Conference Champions (Volleyball), 2008 American East Champions (Men's Basketball) and 2011 American East Regular Season Champions (Women's Basketball).
From a fan perspective, though, the best part of the RAC atmosphere at UMBC has to be the student band. Called the Down and Dirty Dog Band, the twenty-five or so students fill up the entire right bleachers. There were drums, trumpets, clarinets and even tubas as the band played loudly and well during different intermissions throughout the game I visited. These songs weren't your typical 80s rock band songs, either. More current songs like the Family Guy and Fairly Oddparents theme songs were played by the band. The Retrievers' dance and cheer teams were two other perks of the RAC atmosphere during the men's basketball game that I attended. There were plenty of students on each of the spirit teams, enough that there was a group of them standing at every corner of the RAC throughout the game. They did several center-court performances as well, trying to excite the fans as the Retrievers tried to fight back from being down just about the entire game. The public address announcer was spirited and enthusiastic, and after the game was over, the players stayed on the court during the playing of the UMBC alma mater, which was played by the band, though most fans didn't know the words.
UMBC is located in Catonsville, Maryland which is part of Baltimore County, as the school's name suggests. Catonsville is to the west of Baltimore's city limits, not inside the city, and UMBC is actually three miles outside of Baltimore. This placement is great, because it allows fans to be very close to Maryland's biggest city without having to worry about the city traffic or congestion. The Baltimore/Washington Airport is five minutes away, Baltimore's Inner Harbor is fifteen minutes away and Washington, DC is about 45 minutes away.
For visitors, though, Catonsville doesn't exactly have the same pull. There are great places to eat, like Cafe Di Roma on Edmondson Avenue and Little Phoenix on Frederick Road. As far as things to do, Catonsville seems to blossom in the summer. If you are at UMBC for a basketball game, though, you won't run into Catonsville's summertime entertainment traditions during your visit. Regardless, take advantage of the fact that you'll be less than ten miles from the heart of Baltimore, Maryland, also known as Charm City. Again, UMBC is the best of both worlds in that you're minutes from the 24th-largest city in the United States, but don't have to go through its traffic or streets to get the school campus.
Fan support is one aspect that the school and athletic program could develop a little further. The Retrievers went up against conference foe Boston University in the game I attended, and there was a strong showing of BU Terrier fans, even though the school is over six hours away. As everyone exited the center after the final buzzer sounded, I even overheard one UMBC student turn to his friend and ask her why there were so many people there wearing Boston University merchandise. The lower seats behind the Boston University bench were filled with Terrier fans, and there were others that were spread out sitting in the bleachers. I am not sure whether this should be taken more as a compliment to the BU fan base or as a concern to the UMBC fan base, but perhaps it's a bit of both. The Retriever fans that were at the game showed different degrees of support and fanhood, with some sitting back and enjoying the game, while others cheered strongly and tried to motivate the team while they had a bit of a dry spell during the game on offense.
The Down and Dirty Dog Band did its best to keep fans excited and engaged throughout the game. Students in the band were very into the game, sustaining typical chants like 'DE-FENSE' or counting down when the Retrievers were on offense and the shot clock was close to zero. Boston University's basket was in front of the student band bleachers in the second half, and any time the Terriers shot a free throw, the student band went rabid in trying to distract the BU shooter. When UMBC shot a free throw, the student band raised their hands, as is the typical student tradition in college basketball. Unfortunately, the band was pretty much by themselves in these endeavors. The fans may have been mild, but they did show up and fill some seats, which is more than some other venues can say. Fans ranged from alumni, students and families with their kids, something that is always good to see.
Getting to the UMBC campus and the RAC is extremely easy and convenient. If you're coming from the north, take Interstate 95 to Route 166 (Exit 47B Catonsville) or, alternatively, take Interstate 83 to Baltimore Beltway using Exit 12C to get to Wikens Avenue, West. There are several signs for UMBC that show up on the interstate, so as long as you are close, you'll be able to follow those to get there. Once you're on campus, the RAC is on Administration Drive right across from the Administration Drive Garage, building 32. For GPS purposes, the address of the RAC is 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250. Though the campus isn't in the Baltimore city limits, the school lobbied the government to use 'Baltimore' as its address and succeeded. The Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is five minutes away, and bus services are available from downtown Baltimore. MARC and AMTRAK commuter trains are two more available options if you wish to get onto campus.
If you do end up driving, you can park at garages located at Administration Drive or on the street on Hilltop Circle. Parking is free. Once you're in the RAC, you will want to go through the left entrances to get into the basketball gym; the right entrances are for the student recreation center, which requires a student ID. There is a volunteer taking tickets right in front of the double-door entrance into the basketball gym. When the final buzzer sounds after the game is over, there is no need to worry about post-game traffic, because there are no logjams on the campus roads after the game ends.
Tickets for UMBC basketball games can be bought at the box office inside the RAC Arena, which is located to the right of the front doors. The box office opens one hour before every game. Tickets for adults are $10, while seniors and youth can get tickets for $6. These ticket prices are about par for the America East course, with some other schools being cheaper ($7 at New Hampshire), some being more expensive ($12 at Vermont) and some being the exact same price ($10 at Stony Brook). Ticket prices, especially in the smaller conferences, are largely based on the success of the team on the floor, and with UMBC being mostly a middle-of-the-road program in its first decade or so as an America East conference member, the prices reflect this.
Seating is first-come, first-served. Bleachers are general admission, including the left baseline seats across from the Down and Dirty Dog Band. The lower seats are split up into three sections on each sideline. On the top sideline (left to right sections 1, 2, 3) section 1 and 3 are open to any fans, while the middle section is reserved for season ticket holders. On the bottom sideline (left to right sections 6, 5, 4), the left section is for general admission, while the middle section is for reserved season ticket holders and the right section is reserved for the UMBC students. The best places to sit would be on the left baseline, either in section one behind the UMBC bench or section six on the other side. The rest of the seats are fine, but the one spot you will want to avoid is sitting on the bottom of the bleachers that are on the top concourse level. Fans will be walking back and forth on the concourse before and during the game, and it will block your view and act as a distraction if you're sitting too low on the bleachers.
One extra point goes to the Athletic Hall of Fame that sits outside in the lobby of the RAC. It is a yellow and black wall that has over 80 plaques recognizing different UMBC athletes and coaches who excelled in their sport, also displaying the years that they attended the school or coached a team. All kinds of different sports were recognized, like swimming & diving, track & field, softball, basketball, and gymnastics.
Another extra point goes to the team store that is also right outside the entrance to the basketball gym, called the Pro Shop. It seems like a simple thing, but it may surprise you how many universities don't have a place inside the venue where you can buy hats, shirts or the like. Small schools love bringing in young fans, though, and a lot of kids probably love remembering their first big basketball game with a school shirt or hat, so team shops inside the venue are great ideas, and it was good to see that UMBC included one.
Two extra points are given, which is equal to the number of logos the school has used since 2001. The logo that was used from 2001-2010 was of a retriever that had black shading and a yellow outline, looking to the right. A contest was launched by the school to find a new logo in 2010, and in May of that year, the athletics department unveiled the current trademark, a brown retriever looking left with a black and gold outline, as the new and official University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers athletics logo.
States on the east coast like Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia all have something that Maryland doesn't; two big collegiate in-state rivals. In the Old Line State, it's the University of Maryland in College Park, and then everyone else. Schools like Coppin State, Towson, Morgan State and UMBC are all trying to establish themselves as the in-state 'little brother' that can start a run of its own and challenge the Maryland Terrapins in terms of fan base and relative success. UMBC may not yet be a school that automatically comes to mind when you think of Maryland basketball, but with a consistent program and a few America East titles, don't be surprised if the RAC starts filling up, and the school that's three miles outside of Baltimore starts getting some wider recognition.
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1719 Edmondson Ave
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