While the Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Vermont may not be either the oldest (1963) or smallest (capacity: 3,266) venue in Division I basketball, it may be the most tired. More dated or intimate facilities often offer historic charm or quaint details which make the basketball viewing experience unique. Patrick Gym is, in fact, a simple cement box, most comparable to a large high school gym.
The entirety of the seating is traditional bleachers along the sidelines, except for roughly 40 chair-back seats courtside across from the team benches and underneath the northernmost basket. Outside of those, prepare for discomfort, especially if the weather is cold. Colder weather (as you might suspect, not uncommon during college basketball season in Vermont) means more big coats, hats, gloves and scarves. All that bulky clothing inevitably gets removed in a gym which warms up considerably when full. The problem is, in tight-fitting bleachers, there’s nary a place to put them. Either you or the persons directly in front of you or to your sides are going to be impacted and uncomfortable. The effect trickles down, and the winter is long in Vermont.
The south-side wall boasts banners reflecting the seven consecutive America East Academic Cups earned by Vermont student-athletes. Immediately below the banners sit the "Best Seat in the House" promotional recliners. Unlike every other "seat" in the gym, the recliners—reserved for two lucky fans who are "upgraded"—are very comfortable. However, the vantage point to watch the action isn’t the best, and the purpose of having it be a recliner is entirely counterintuitive when you consider you’re there to watch a sporting event.
One final critique: Patrick Gymnasium must be among the least intimidating venue names in the country. A simple change to the "Patrick Athletic Center" and calling it the "PAC" or frankly, anything, would be an improvement. If only the benefactor was named Roy L. Rumbledome.
Overall, the current facility is simply too uncomfortable and inadequate for a team which has become an exemplary program in New England (second most wins—behind only UConn—in the region in the past decade). An actual arena (referred to locally as an event center to promote it as more than a venue for athletic competition) is supposedly in the works, but funding continues to be an issue. But until ground is broken, welcome to Catamount Country!
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The limited capacity probably justifies the limited selection of on-site food options (hot dogs, sandwiches, assorted snacks and candy; no beer or alcohol). Cost is reasonable, but access to the concession stand is problematic. It’s not that it’s far away; indeed, concessions are located practically beneath the bleachers themselves. The issue is that the only way to get to the concessions is to walk down to the bottom of the bleachers, exit the gym, go through the lobby and double-back. Sound easy? Well, now imagine roughly 1,500 people doing that exact same thing at the exact same time (halftime), and there’s only one way out of and back into the gym. Add to that the "single-file" line which forms at the concession stand, and the diminished likelihood of catching the start of the second half hardly makes the effort seem worthwhile. Although posted signs indicate that food or beverage is not permitted in the gym, the staff is rather relaxed in enforcement. Accordingly, you’re best bet is to smuggle.
The intimacy mandates that you’ll always be close to the action but, again, the overall experience is far from ideal. For "big" games, Vermont typically calls upon local legend Dave Grippo and his alto saxophone to perform the national anthem, and he never disappoints. Typically, however, a talented student is given that honor, with varying degrees of success.
The Vermont pep-band also often sets up in one corner of the bleachers, keeping the energy up and breaking out the cowbell whenever necessary. Vermont boasts both cheerleaders and a dance team to entertain at halftime and during timeouts, but neither is particularly polished. The school also lacks any definitive cheers, so added burden is placed on the cheerleaders to energize the crowd, which isn’t easy, given a large portion of the demographic (see Fans, below). The gym also lacks a central scoreboard or video monitor, not that such a fixture necessarily makes sense in such a tight venue.
Finally, the biggest drawback of having bleacher seating and only one exit is that when fans leave early, they must make their way down the bleachers and exit alongside the court. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and it becomes terribly distracting during the last five minutes of the contest.
Simply put, Burlington, Vermont is a great college town, with numerous options to grab a tasty bite or microbrew pre or post-game. Patrick Gym is located on campus, so you’ll need to trek up the hill from downtown Burlington to get from the bar/restaurant to the game. That’s a rarity, and most people simply drive. In other words, while the downtown options are generally fantastic, the gym is not well situated to simply park, eat, and walk to the game.
A favorite of the fans, although not downtown, is The Windjammer restaurant located less than a mile from the facility. The casual steak-and-seafood restaurant also houses a bar upstairs called The Upper Deck Pub, which is the unofficial gathering spot of Catamount fans for televised non-home events. The food selection and quality is fine, and the prices are Burlington-reasonable.
The Church Street Marketplace downtown is quite vibrant has numerous bars and restaurants. The good places (The Farmhouse [local burgers/gastropub], El Cortijo [Mexican] and Leunig’s [Bistro]) get packed quickly, so you’ll want to order no later than 5:30 to be done by 6:30 and make the aforementioned trek up the hill. There are dozens of quality options, but make a decision quickly. It isn’t far to the gym, but downtown does get busy that time of night, and if the teams are playing well and a good-size crowd is expected, getting from the restaurant to your bleacher spot could conceivably take 45 minutes. If it were more convenient to walk to the gym, Neighborhood would likely get five stars.
The three star rating for fans is meant to define an average, as you get a little bit of everything within the Vermont faithful: complete diehards that will travel to see them play (Vermont is consistently regarded as having the best traveling fanbase in the conference); regular bandwagoners who fill the gym when the team is successful (predominantly students); and old-timers who fuss and fidget when it gets too loud or people stand to cheer, arguing it disrupts their enjoyment of the experience. These latter folks have been season-ticket holders for years, back when the team was lousy (not so long ago), and now feel entitled, believing the fans should behave as they see fit. Reality, of course, has passed them by. Also, unlike at UVM hockey games, student basketball fans have yet to develop any real traditions during introductions or throughout the game.
The foregoing eclectic mix makes the dynamic somewhat strange. When the house is full, the students are pushed to the ends of the sidelines (recall there’s no seating behind either basket), so the loudest cheers and jeers often come from the extremes of the gym. On an exciting play, you will witness just certain groups rise from their seats, as it requires a bit too much effort for the aforementioned octogenarians to get up and down with regularity. Mind you, because the joint is small, it can get LOUD, which is fun. The resounding chorus of "boos" usually reserved for the suspect America East officials can also scare small children.
As noted before, many fans do tend to leave early, regardless of the score. You can save 30 minutes on your commute home by leaving 5 minutes early, but this practice is certainly worth a demerit when scoring the fan base.
Parking is free, and finding a spot is simple enough, either in a big lot adjacent to the gym itself or in a remote lot not too far away (just follow the signs) for which the school provides a free shuttle. There is no other form of public transportation.
If there is a drawback to access, it’s that the primary road used to access the adjacent lot (if you’re coming from the East) requires navigating a heavily-trafficked roundabout which incorporates two traffic lights. In other words, it is not inconceivable that you can start to progress through the roundabout, but sit through four or five cycles of green-amber-red before making your way through. As with most venues, leave ample time when driving to the game. Typically, 85%-90% of the fans are in their seats at tip-off.
Bathrooms are easily accessed and located on either side of the lobby of the gym. I’ve seen occasional small lines out the women’s room, but nothing of concern.
Men’s basketball reserved seats are $14, and general admission tickets are $12. The only difference is location, as both grant you a spot on the bleachers. Nonetheless, that’s a very small price to pay for Division I basketball. There’s nary a complaint over ticket price. Given the (lack of) comfort of the facility, however, an increase of a couple of bucks may start pushing the limits. Suspicion is that prices will rise if a new facility is built. Whether the Vermont consumer has the appetite to pay more for better amenities is somewhat unknown at this point, but that’s a bridge most people would enjoy having to cross.
Student tickets are free, but require a pick-up several days before the event. Logistically, this may lead to fewer students in attendance. However, for those on the ball, the value is tremendous.
Vermonters have a reputation of being "nice folks," and that perception is generally upheld at UVM basketball games. The staff is courteous and accessible, and fans are generally regulars, so each game is really a social event layered with a sporting event.
There is also a first half T-shirt toss and Pizza giveaway, the best-seat-in-the-house promotion, and second-half cookie giveaway. So, on the whole, UVM does try to put on a good show for the fans. The real draw, of course, is the team, which really did transition from being a team into a "program" about a decade or so ago. Continued success, despite the facility drawbacks, is a credit to the coaching staffs and recruiters, who regularly draw in student-athletes that make the Burlington community overwhelmingly proud. The hope is, in a few years, the same can be said with regard to the facilities.
Photos provided by Vermont Athletics, credit to Brian Jenkins.
Great place to watch a basketball game. Very small gym, but it is also very intimate. Every fan is loud, and the gym is loud because of the intimate structure. Burlington is a great college town and has many great food options for before or after the game. Tickets are cheap too, running for $5 to $10. Two lucky fans also get selected for the "Best Seat in the House" which is right on the baseline. Great atmosphere for a good team.
1076 Williston Rd
South Burlington, VT 05403
160 Bank St
Burlington, VT 05401
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