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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Constructed in 1969, little has changed over the years for the UTPA Fieldhouse, home of the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs. With a capacity of 2,420, UTPA Fieldhouse not only is called home-court by Broncs basketball, but is also home to UTPA volleyball as well as serving as a health and kinesiology facility for university students.
In the 2010-11 season, the Fieldhouse received a facelift with a new court, video board, and courtside/chairback seating. Though the glory days for UTPA were undoubtedly during the 1962-63 NAIA Championship year, the promise for a bright future rests in the Broncs recent invite to join the WAC conference as the conference brand transitions from a rich football history to a focus on non-football sports.
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 variety of concession options at the Fieldhouse is anything but extensive. However, one item on the menu is a must-try and an extremely popular fan option: Hot Cheetos with cheese. Imagine a bowl of the spicy brand of Cheetos drizzled with nacho cheese. Yeah, it's pretty tasty. What's even better is that it will only cost you a couple of bucks. While this option is certainly a hit, the lack of other options is not.
In addition to Hot Cheetos with cheese you can get a bag of chips, candy, and popcorn for $1. More filling options include hot dogs ($2) and nachos ($3). The Fieldhouse features Coke products which you can get for $2 ($3 for Powerade). Though the options are sparse, the affordability is definitely a benefit. Considering the space restrictions inside the fieldhouse, you'll find the concessions located outside in the courtyard in two small mobile trailers.
The atmosphere at the UTPA Fieldhouse is hit or miss. Depending on when you attend, the crowd is either non-existent or boisterous. This pattern is discussed in more detail in the Fan section below. The fan support is certainly not a negative indication of the effort the spirit programs put in.
The pep-band is small, but plays nearly the entire game without piped-in music (which is a plus in my world). The cheer groups are active whether it's Bucky the Bronc interacting with fans in all corners of the seating areas or the cheerleaders engaging the crowd from the stands at tip-off and at the beginning of the second half. The student section, also known as the "Bronc Zoo", is located just behind the home team bench area on the west side and is identified as such with a large banner just above the section.
Seating areas are located on the west and east sides of the Fieldhouse with no seating behind the end lines on the north and south sides. The seating layout is largely general admission. I'd recommend grabbing a seat on the east side near mid-court about half-way up.
The video scoreboard is pretty impressive for the size of the arena. Spanning nearly the entire end line on the south side, the video board offers instant replay and also serves as a scoreboard. Just above the video board you'll find the 1962-63 NAIA National Championship banner. On the left side hangs a banner recognizing the 1980-81 NIT bid and to the right hangs the retired jersey of Luke Jackson (NBA and Olympic champion).
Near the walkway on the southwest corner and Fieldhouse wall is a plaque which pays homage to the coach of the '63 championship team as well as the father of UTPA basketball, Sam Williams. Above the eastside bleachers is a "Welcome to the Valley" banner.
The University of Texas-Pan American is located in the city of Edinburg in the Rio Grande Valley (South Texas). Though Edinburg itself is anything but a premier travel destination, the Valley is a unique area consisting of a close-knit group of cities where Texas meets Mexico.
One of the pure treats for out-of-towners is the area cuisine. While in town, you must make a stop at Delia's for some handmade tamales. A stop here will be worth a trip to the Valley in itself. For authentic Mexican food, try the Suizo Plate (stuffed poblano pepper and chicken enchiladas) at Trevino's. The Thirsty Bronc is a good night life stop where you'll find a blend of alumni and students.
The history of the area can be further explored at the Museum of South Texas History. Another neat stop is the Tejano Walk of Fame near the Edinburg city hall which serves as a tribute to Tejano music legends.
Edinburg in itself isn't overflowing with attractions, so I recommend lodging in nearby McAllen at the Hilton Garden Inn. McAllen is a much larger city with tons more to do and is only a skip south. About an hour and a half east of Edinburg is the summer time travel stop of South Padre Island. Depending on the timing and weather for your trip, you may want to try to include a stop here as a side excursion.
The UTPA basketball program is far removed from the glory years of the '63 NAIA Championship and '81 NIT appearance. One of the primary issues facing the program is securing membership in a conference that is geographically situated and can allow for growth. UTPA has long desired an invitation to join the Southland Conference but has been rebuffed each time. However, a unique opportunity has emerged with the dismantling of the WAC as a football conference. Even though the WAC is a shell of its former self, the name brand has certainly generated some excitement among alums and students. Even with WAC membership, however, the closest conference program will be Dallas Baptist (500 miles away) who only fields a baseball program. The next closest program will be Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona (moving up from Division II).
With that said, fan support isn't nearly as strong as it could or would be given different circumstances. It's extremely hard to get excited about a conference rival match-up with NJIT or Chicago State. Attendance figures range from 300 to 2,100. Unfortunately, the 300-600 range is more common. If you time your visit during Homecoming Week (held in the Spring), expect closer to the 2,000 figure. The program has potential in a region that lacks prime sports programs. Until a regional conference is willing to make the trip to the Valley, UTPA will likely continue to struggle to garner support.
Traveling to Edinburg won't be the easiest of ventures for folks not from the Valley. The airport you'll likely fly into is the relatively small Valley International Airport (Harligen). From Harligen, Edinburg is about a 45 minute drive westward.
The UTPA Fieldhouse is fairly accessible but my biggest complaint here will be with the campus map and lack of clear directions. On the athletics page you'll notice that the arena is referred to as the "UTPA Fieldhouse". As you search the campus map, you'll be dismayed to not find a single building with that name. Let me save you a headache by pointing out that the official name for the building both on the map and the building sign just outside is "Health and Physical Education I".
Parking is accessible and free near the Fieldhouse. It's a bit confusing to determine where the ticket booth and main entrance is located. There's a special entrance for season ticket holders on the north side of the facility. The ticket booth and main entrance gate is located on the northeast corner. As you enter, you'll actually find yourself in an outdoor courtyard which is nestled between the Health and PE I building and Health and PE 2 building. Your restroom facilities will be located in this courtyard as well as two mobile concession booths.
Considering that the concession booths are outdoors and not under cover, this must make for an interesting situation when rain comes. You're unlikely to come upon a line of any kind as you make your way into the stadium. The spacious concourse wraps from the northeast corner into the south end line, back around to the northwest corner and is situated between the bleachers and court. The aisles in the stands are open and uncluttered.
Tickets to a Broncs game at the UTPA Fieldhouse range from $8 for general admission to $10 for reserved. $8 is a pretty fair price for the level of competition and overall experience. Considering the low cost for concessions and free parking, the overall return on investment is pretty nice.
Unfortunately, until the Broncs can field a better team and host some higher caliber opponents, the on-the-court product really negatively affects the ROI. The spirit squads do as much as they can to make the atmosphere higher quality.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared to other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For a trip to the UTPA Fieldhouse, be sure to consider making a stop at Delia's tamales while in town. They're a must have even when not in town...and that's a possibility since Delia's ships their tamales to your home address. With that said, I think it's time for me to place my order.
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