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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
With over 40,000 students, York University in Toronto is the second largest university in Ontario and the third largest in Canada. When sports teams were established in 1968, the teams were called the Yeomen after the British guards, also referred to as Beefeaters. In 2003 the university decided to replace Yeomen with the gender neutral Lions. Over time the Yeomen/Lions have had a mixed bag of success. In the late seventies and early eighties the Yeomen did have some significant success in basketball with six Wilson Cups as Ontario conference champions. Unfortunately for York, those great teams were met in the National Championship tournaments with the juggernaut from the University of Victoria that won National titles from 1980 through 1986.
The York Lions play on the Keele Campus of York University at the Tait McKenzie Centre. The Centre was named after R. Tait McKenzie who was a renowned physician, sculptor, athlete, soldier and scouter. He was also a childhood friend of the founder of basketball James Naismith. CIS Basketball could probably be compared to NCAA Division II in the United States as they are similar in facility size and attendance. The games are pretty much student run, right down to the public address announcer, cameramen, and commentators.
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A simple snack bar is all that you will find at a York Lions game. The downside is that you are looking only at soda, chocolate bars, candy, popcorn and water. On the plus side everything is only a dollar. If you are feeling really saucy you can pay $2 for a Vitamin Water. You will not be able to find culinary works of art at a Lions game and you better bring cash if you are eating, but it doesn't seem out of place.
First and foremost, Tait McKenzie Centre is a teaching facility for students. It was designed with students in mind and although it is not a bad facility to watch a basketball game, spectators were not at the front of the line when considerations in the design were made.
Upon entering the Tait McKenzie Centre you will be greeted immediately by a temporary table selling tickets and select merchandise. Your credit card will work at this desk, but this is the only one.
You then must pass security and go up to the main gymnasium where the Lions play ball. The entrance to the gymnasium is adorned with doors painted with the Lions logo and splits two large sets of bleachers on one side of the gymnasium. Your snack table is in this spot between bleachers as is a promo table and a table offering free game day program line-ups and free basketball yearbooks. The bleachers are mainly plastic seat type benches with no backs with the exception of the top three rows which offer chairs with backs.
The three other walls in the gym feature championship banners over the years from all of the Lions teams, most of which were won when the team was the Yeomen. These banners include the six conference championships the Yeomen won in basketball in 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1985. There are also three large rectangular promotional banners that help give the gymnasium some character and colour.
The scoreboard is better than most in the league. It is a simple scoreboard, but also features a line-up and tracks fouls.
The Tait McKenzie Centre is a simple facility, but it is more than adequate for the fans that are there. It is fairly comfortable and has a bit of vibe to it during the game. The game day presentation is also student run. Promotions, direction and music selection are all covered by students. They keep things pretty simple and do a good job.
York University is located in the part of Toronto formerly known as North York. The campus is at the northern edge of the city, just a couple of blocks from Vaughn. Toronto being a huge city offers many other sporting and cultural options. However, most are a pretty significant distance from York. If you remain on campus, Canlan Ice Sports houses York hockey teams and York Stadium is the home of York football. York also houses the top tennis and track and field facilities in the province.
If you want to see other teams, you are around 20 km from downtown Toronto. There you could find other university sports like Ryerson Rams basketball or hockey at Mattamy Athletic Centre, or Toronto Varsity Blues football at Varsity Stadium or hockey at Varsity Arena. Toronto basketball also has a new home at the Goldring Centre.
Professional sports are also in abundance downtown with the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Rock calling Air Canada Centre home, the Blue Jays and Argonauts playing at Rogers Centre, the Marlies playing at the Ricoh Coliseum and Toronto FC playing at BMO Field.
As far as pre or post game meals are concerned you are going to want to keep your car. York University has a huge campus and walking may not be an option. Being so close to Vaughn and the Vaughn Mills Shopping Centre there are numerous options available there. These include Alice Fazooli's, Dave & Busters, and Chilli's just to name a few. If you are looking for something a little closer, try Hoops Sports Bar on Keele, or La Risata on Steeles.
The CIS does a very poor job publishing the game attendance for basketball and hockey games. Therefore it is difficult to get a true handle on the number of fans that are going to games and how it compares across the league. It is fair to say that there are a couple hundred fans that show up to see the Lions. With such a small capacity at Tait, a small crowd does not look too out of place. The fans that are in attendance are loud and proud and support their team with vigour. There is definitely room for more fans, but it does not feel as if the place is empty.
Getting to York University is not too difficult. For those coming from out of town, York is east of Highway 400 and just south Highway 407 ERT. If possible, when driving take the highways. Steeles Avenue, which is very close to York, is one of the busiest streets in Toronto and can be very slow if you are travelling it during the wrong time. There is plenty of parking on campus, and there is a lot right behind the Tait McKenzie Centre. A little research with a campus map will help you find exactly where you want to be. For those of you interested in public transit, there is a GO station right on the York campus which is a hub for all types of TTC transit.
Inside, the washrooms are extremely small and crowded. Choose your washroom visit time very carefully, and avoid halftime if possible.
CIS Basketball offers very little in the way of investment. The top ticket to see the Lions is $10. There are discounts for Non-York students, seniors, staff and alumni. Children under the age of 13 are free. Tickets are available at the door or online.
Concession prices are very cheap and parking on campus will run you $5. The game action may not be professional or NCAA power conference level, but it is good quality and provides a fun night out with not much hassle.
In a league where pre-game introductions simply include music and introductions, two extra marks goes to York for going the extra mile. Player introductions at York include a spotlight, entrance through a York tent and a pair of red, rotating hockey lights. It may not be much, but it's a little something more.
An extra mark goes to the student volunteers at York who run everything including the streaming internet video feed.
York Lions basketball probably won't be your greatest sporting adventure in life. However, York does provide a solid, family-friendly product and a very cheap price. Getting to see the York Lions is a fun evening and you won't regret it.
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4207 Keele St
Toronto, ON M3J 3T8
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