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Official Review by Ed Pelle, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Long Island has long been a hotbed for lacrosse. With great support at the youth, high school, and collegiate levels, it was only appropriate that the first iterations of professional lacrosse found their way to Long Island.
In its third season of operation the National Lacrosse League relocated the New Jersey Saints to Long Island's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the team was rebranded the New York Saints. Initially the team arrived to great fanfare and drew large crowds playing alongside the New York Islanders. From 1989 until 2003 the professional indoor game was played at the Nassau Coliseum. Toward the end of their run, interest in all sports at Nassau Coliseum was on the decline, in part due to the difficult period of history that the New York Islanders were experiencing.
Major League Lacrosse had its inaugural season in 2001 with six teams participating in outdoor professional field lacrosse and the Long Island Lizards would participate in the very first game of this new league against the Baltimore Bayhawks on June 7th. The Lizards would go on to win the very first Steinfeld Cup awarded that year and added another in 2003. The Steinfeld Cup is given to the championship team in MLL and is named after Jake Steinfeld, a founder of the league who is more well known for his work as the host of television exercise program Body By Jake.
Initially the Long Island Lizards played their home games in the two counties that make up Long Island. Hofstra University, which is roughly one block south down from the Nassau Coliseum, hosted the Nassau County games. What is now known as Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip hosted the Suffolk County games.
After the initial season the Lizards stopped having games in Suffolk County. Following their second full season the team moved its home contests to Mitchell Field which is a Nassau County Parks facility located one block north of Hofstra and one block west of the Nassau Coliseum. The Mitchell Athletic Complex was equipped with fewer amenities than either of its former homes, though for six seasons the Lizards made the most of it.
In 2009 the Lizards moved back to the campus of Hofstra in a move that also coincided with Hofstra's decision to terminate its 72 year old football program that used that same playing field.
Shortly before the commencement of the 2012 season a new ownership group was announced that included football great Jim Brown who was also a two time All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse University and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. New ownership laid down ambitious plans to expand the geographic area in which the team would be marketed. As part of the sale to the new investment group, the team now secured rights that extended beyond Long Island into New York City, Westchester, New Jersey and Southern Connecticut. In December of 2012 the team was rebranded the New York Lizards and announced plans to play two games at Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island within the confines of New York City.
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".
Shuart Stadium provides a simple menu that covers the basics in stadium food. Most patrons will use the concession stand that is located under the midfield stands. This is the only option for fans with a gold or silver seating ticket. Here are some highlights: hot dogs ($4) add a dollar for chilli or cheese, cheese pizza ($6) add a dollar for pepperoni, soft pretzel ($4), nachos with cheese ($6), cheeseburger ($6), churros ($2), popcorn ($6), and cheese fries ($6).
Pepsi products are served here, a large fountain soda is $5, bottled water is $4, a Red Bull is $5, and coffee, hot tea, and hot chocolate are all $3. They also have prepackaged candy $4, Cracker Jacks ($5) and peanuts ($5) are also available.
In an effort to group the fans closer together, half the stadium is unavailable for use, as they bisect the field with only one sideline operational. This might look good for television when they place the cameras facing the crowd side but it also deadens ambiance as crowd noise drifts off into the parking lot and isn't returned.
The team does a lot to make the experience fun for younger members of the family by providing an air inflated jumping mattress and a booth to test the velocity of your hardest throws using a lacrosse stick.
Holding games at the horseshoe shaped Shuart Stadium is a bonus for the Lizards since there is quite a bit of athletic history that has occurred on these grounds while the Lizards try to make some of their own. At the open end of the horseshoe seating sits Joseph M. Margiotta Hall, a sports training facility and locker room that has the retired jerseys of former Hofstra players proudly displayed across its top. The three jerseys to the right represent the game of lacrosse.
The other five of the jerseys starting at the left are former football players. Number 3, Wayne Chrebet, went on to enjoy success in the NFL as a New York Jet wide receiver and is somewhat of a local hero. Number 89, Marques Colston, is still representing the defunct Hofstra football program as an important part of the New Orleans Saints offense.
As players leave the locker room area in Margiotta Hall they approach the field by using the Hofstra Lacrosse Victory Walk. This walk to the field has hundreds of red bricks with the winning scores of Hofstra lacrosse games from 1949, at the program's inception onward. The Victory Walk is surrounded by several gardens and other plaques in tribute to the student athlete.
The area surrounding Hofstra University is a tale of two cities with Hofstra being the dividing line. To the south and west are areas considered "rougher" by most Long Islanders. Most visitors to Hofstra or the Nassau Coliseum will head east on Hempstead Turnpike toward East Meadow or north toward Museum Row and Roosevelt Field Mall when looking for post or pregame attractions.
For people traveling with children, the Long Island Children's Museum located just one block west of Nassau Coliseum on Museum Row is worth the $12 general admission. It has two large floors filled with interactive exhibits. The museum sits next to Nunley's Carousel which costs a mere $2 per ride. The carousel has been relocated here from its prior home in nearby Baldwin where it had been operated for 55 years. Most native Long Islanders have ridden the carousel at some point during their life.
For older visitors the Cradle of Aviation Museum, which contains a planetarium, might be a better option at $14. One of Charles Lindbergh's planes is on display here as well as a lunar module that was produced on Long Island. The street on which these attractions are located is dubbed Charles Lindbergh Boulevard because he took off from nearby Roosevelt Field which was then an airfield on his world famous transatlantic flight in 1927.
For postgame food or drinks one doesn't have to venture far from Shuart Stadium to find a great place. Located a mere 15 feet from the stadium's north end on Hempstead Turnpike is Social Sports Lounge and Kitchen, a bar and restaurant. Owned by Wayne Chrebet, this bar offers top shelf drinks and gourmet versions of sports bar classics. Some examples include marinated skirt steak ($13.95), bacon stuffed burger (11.95), rigatoni alla vodka ($13.95), Cap'n Crunch crusted chicken fingers ($8.95), soy Thai calamari ($10.95), and shrimp dumplings ($8.95).
I like to think this category is a work in progress. Prior to new ownership, the Lizards were toward the bottom in league attendance. Since the rebranding there seems to be a willingness to pull out all the stops and develop stronger ties with their fan base. The Lizards conduct countless clinics, camps, and events throughout the year. When you attend a game you notice that there are a lot of families present because of this. Building a future through youth is a great idea, but it also takes time to truly manifest. Autographs and other souvenirs are easier to get than most other pro sports. The dance team and mascot keep the crowd entertained during any lulls in the action.
With so many outreach projects and charitable events, the Lizards have been embraced as a member of the community.
Getting to Shuart Stadium is relatively easy. The stadium is located just off of Hempstead Turnpike, which is one of the major roadways that cut across Nassau County East-West. If you head south on Uniondale Avenue from Hempstead Turnpike you will reach the parking area to your right, two blocks down on Gerald Street. Parking is free for Lizards games.
It should be noted that Shuart Stadium is located on the opposite side of Hempstead Turnpike from the Davis S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, which is home to Hofstra basketball and other sports.
Conveniently the Meadowbrook Parkway is located less than a half mile away and has exits that intersect with Hempstead Turnpike. Use exit M4 and head west toward Hofstra if using this method of travel.
Public transportation is an option as there are five NICE (Nassau InterCounty Express) bus lines with stops at Shuart Stadium. These routes are the 43,45,70,71 and 72. You could also take the Long Island Railroad to Hempstead if you didn't mind a brisk 20 minute walk or take one of the above buses east toward Hofstra University from the area near the train station.
Tickets are $20 for silver seating, $28 gold seating, which is a chairback seat at midfield and $80 for diamondclub which includes catered food and beverages while you sit practically on the field.
There is a souvenir stand near the south end of the bleachers that sells Lizards merchandise. You can purchase a hat for $25, a program for $5, or fiddlesticks (mini lacrosse sticks) for $25. They also sell a variety of shirts and replica shorts from $15.99 to $54.99 depending on size.
Most of the prices here are significantly lower than any of the other professional teams that call the New York Metro area home in virtually every category making what the Lizards offer a great deal for New York sports fans.
I have always enjoyed the nicely manicured campus Hofstra maintains including the various statues and monuments in addition to its functional architecture.
About a decade ago I decided to stop by Hofstra University to attend a football game on a lazy Saturday night. As I waited on line near the ticket window I looked down and saw the words "Victory Begins Here" painted on the ground near my feet. I didn't at the time realize the significance of these words since the Victory Walk had been newly constructed. During the course of the game I struck up a conversation with a man and his son who had traveled over from neighboring New Jersey to check out the stadium. We talked about the various iconic sports locations we wish we could visit. Years later I am still chasing down those iconic sports venues having visited every major city and almost every major college in America. Planning on starting a journey of your own? I can't think of any better place to start.
The New York Lizards offer a fun, family friendly experience at an affordable price. The MLL is growing every year and so too are the Lizards. It will be interesting to check back on their progress soon.
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