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Official Review by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Not too long ago, Lehigh was just like many of its other Patriot League combatants, living the life in a low-major basketball league. All it takes is one victory in March over a team that begins with D and ends in UKE, though, and your name will forever be known. The Mountain Hawks of Lehigh joined Bucknell as the only league teams with a victory in the NCAA Tournament, and as a result, a few more fans have made their way over to Stabler Arena. Lehigh’s basketball home was built in 1979 and seats 5,600. Stabler is bigger than most other facilities in the Patriot League, and it feels a little more like an arena as opposed to a large gym.
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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".
Only two concession stands are found inside the facility, and they are both found on the concourse level, near the stairway entrances from which fans arrive into the arena. Offerings are somewhat basic, like hot dogs ($3.00), pizza ($3.50 per slice), spicy sausage ($3.50) and ice cream ($3.00). When I asked for a sausage, they said it would need 10-15 minutes to warm up. This seemed unusual, since it was halftime and this was pretty much the only time people were at the concession stands. At least the pizza I had instead was pretty good. There was a display for chili, but when I got up there, I didn't see any.
Stabler Arena has a lot of room in the opening foyer and the concourse above surrounding the arena, so it's nice not having to deal with crowded spaces. The inside of the arena is set up with seating on all four sides; however, they do not connect, so it is a little annoying to walk out to the concourse to reach a different side. There are a couple of pull-out sections on the sidelines, and these blue individual seats are closest to the court. Otherwise, about two-thirds of each section features gold chairbacks, while at the top are plain bleachers.
A basic scoreboard can be found in two of the four upper corners. The school has removed its banners and instead placed team accomplishments and retired jerseys to the top wall above each end. It almost looks as though the displays are painted on the wall and it actually has a better look than the old hanging banners. Overall, Stabler Arena is far from spectacular, but certainly an adequate facility for the league and era in which it was built.
This is indeed a tough one, because the immediate neighborhood differs greatly from the nearby city of Bethlehem. Stabler Arena is well away from the main campus, located on the other side of South Mountain and I-78. The athletic section that includes Stabler offers little for the fan, as the only thing really nearby is a housing complex, while the small town of Hellertown is on the other side of Saucon Creek.
Meanwhile, a ten minute drive up and over South Mountain leads to campus and Bethlehem. The Steel City has a lot to offer, including a decent-sized casino (Sands), along with many restaurants on its charming Main Street. Bethlehem Brew Works is certainly worth a visit, as they brew their own beer. Try the Golden Ale with their custom burgers. Another great place to try in town is the Apollo Grill.
Improving is the best way to describe the fans and fan support. At Lehigh, empty seats typically outnumber filled seats by a wide margin. Part of the issue of Lehigh's struggle is likely the location, which is well away from the main campus and not in a good spot for the college kids. However, since the success of the 2012 team, more fans and students have made their way out to Stabler. It is a nice trend to see, and the added atmosphere created by the students sitting behind one of the baskets helps to make Lehigh a little better to visit, as the place used to be much quieter. The addition of a small pep band also helped to enhance the atmosphere. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain this added support for the future, or if it's just a brief increase.
The arena is not far from Exit 67 off of I-78, making for a convenient stop off the interstate. It is a little awkward to traverse the backroads to get to the athletic complex; however, Lehigh does a nice job with signs the entire way, making the five minute drive from the exit easier. Surface parking lots surrounding Stabler Arena are plentiful for Lehigh basketball games. Inside the arena, bathrooms are widely available on the sides of the concourse.
You should absolutely make your way out to Lehigh for a game. Parking is free, and most tickets are only $5. Not only is the event extremely affordable for everybody, but you're bound to see some hard-working students play the sport they love. These guys are pretty good, too.
When entering Stabler Arena, check out the two portraits in the opening foyer. Donald and Dorothy Stabler generously contributed to the facility, and in the process, wanted to honor Donald's parents, who were instrumental in his education at Lehigh.
The other point goes to the very kind usher near Gate 3. Somebody dropped their hotel room key and she was working diligently throughout the second half to try and find that person. She was very thoughtful, and we could certainly use more arena workers like her in the sports world.
*** Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium & Arena Visits.
Member Review by JVerlin
"Out in Bethlehem they're killing time, filling out forms, standing in line"¦" is a well-known line from a well-known song by a well-known artist, and anybody who's listened to Billy Joel's "Allentown" knows he doesn't exactly paint the best picture of the twin former factory cities. Stabler Arena, set off the main campus of Lehigh University just ten minutes from downtown Bethlehem, is one of the older arenas in the league, though no geriatric at 31 years. However, unless you're from the immediate region""it's not a convenient location""Bethlehem is a town that was best visited many decades ago (at least, for basketball).
77 Sands Boulevard
Bethlehem, PA 18015
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