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Official Review by Daniel Armstrong, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Moving along I-55 towards Saint Louis you will see the sign for the ramp to Edwardsville. Most people won't give that sign a second look. That may just be their mistake, because in the heart of that city lies the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and more importantly for me the Vadalabene Center. The arena has been the home of Cougar basketball since 1982.
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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 food is certainly not overpriced. In fact, it is one of the most reasonably priced venues I have ever visited. It's just that there is nothing out of the ordinary, possibly even less than would be expected. The only thing that was worth mentioning is a personal pizza from Domino's, which was slightly overpriced at $5. The other menu items are a 20 oz. drink for $2, hot dog ($2.50), popcorn ($1.50), and candy ($1). Access to the concession stands is also less then ideal. They are all located in the east lobby, so if your seats are on the other side, you have to walk all the way around. There are three windows, but during my visit only one was open so the line circled around the entire lobby making navigation difficult. They did open a second window, but there still was a line until around the ten minute mark of the second half. If you ask me it is not worth the wait.
The atmosphere was the high point of the visit. The arena is smaller than many Division I basketball arenas, and that can actually be a good thing. It resembles a large high school gym and one thing about high school basketball is the atmosphere is far more intimate than seeing a game at a bigger venue. Even with the renovation to the building prior to the move to Division I, this is more of a gym, rather than an arena. The atmosphere wasn't what I would call electric, but it was cozy and you can't say that about many basketball experiences these days. One high point would be that the building has a nice echo so it can get very loud and exciting after a big play.
This was another low point of the visit, being stuffed in the middle of the campus there are not many surrounding restaurants close by. I did notice a few places just out of walking distance but they all appeared closed by the time the game was over. My recommendation would be going to the center of town where there are a lot of places to grab something to eat.
The fans filled two-thirds of the 4,000 seat arena, and probably half of them were the opposing teams fans who were more into the game. I was almost mystified by the fan situation. They were there and all seemed to be paying attention to the game, but they rarely clapped or cheered with the exception of about 25 die hard fans. After a big play or when the other team called a time out they would get up and cheer and clap, but the rest of the time it was like they were in a trance watching the players run up and down the court. One high point would be the previously mentioned echo, as it made those die hard fans a lot louder and added to the atmosphere. It also worked the other way though making the SEMO fans almost sound like the home crowd.
The arena itself is easy to find, but hard to get to. It is tucked away in the center of campus surrounded by a maze of one way streets. For a local I am sure it would be far easier and I need to factor in my malfunctioning GPS, but it took me 10 minutes to get to the lot. The parking situation is excellent as there are two large lots directly across from the arena both with free parking. Once inside you may have some trouble finding bathrooms. When you do find them, they are large and you shouldn't expect a wait, but they are in the lobbies on the East and West side of the arena so you may have to go around. There are also bathrooms in the season ticket club which would be my recommendation for fans in the upper bleachers.
The ticket prices are a little high, but still well within reason with 100 level seats for $15 and 200 level general admission bleachers for $9. The sight lines are good throughout and the bleachers are comfortable. I think they are the best value. The concessions are cheap - so with free parking, a hot dog and a drink, and the price of the ticket - the total comes to about $15 which is about perfect for the experience you will find.
I liked the overall feel of the place, it was just something that you seldom find anymore.
Eddie the mascot did an excellent job of going around and greeting the kids all around the arena.
The cheerleaders and band did a good job of keeping the energy up even with the Cougars being down by quite a bit in the game.
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