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  • Matt Finnigan

Arena-Auditorium – Wyoming Cowboys


Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Arena-Auditorium 1000 E University Ave Laramie, WY 82071


Year Opened: 1982

Capacity: 11,612

 

The University of Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium


Reaching age 40 can be a moment of reckoning for some. It might beget a midlife crisis, catalyzing thoughts of one’s own mortality and how life should be lived. Fortunately, at age 41, the University of Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium isn’t experiencing such existential dread. There are no comb-over haircuts or sports cars for the Cowboy basketball team’s home arena since 1982. Instead, the university has ensured that the 11,612-seat Arena-Auditorium, or A-A (“Double A”) as fans call it, endures as a vibrant setting for Mountain West Conference hoops.


Not content to allow the A-A to fade into obsolescence, Wyoming in 2017 completed a $30 million modernization project that infused new life into the building. This project saw the addition of a spectacular grand entryway featuring Wyoming’s 1943 NCAA Championship trophy and an 18-foot sculpture of Cowboys’ legend Kenny Sailors, who invented the jump shot. These renovations, as well as an elevation of 7,220 feet above sea level, ensure that the A-A will remain a strong home court for Cowboy teams in the future, just as it did for Cowboy legends such as Fennis Dembo, Eric Leckner, Terrence Dunn, and Theo Ratliff.


Food & Beverage 4

There are approximately three times more cattle (approximately 1.3 million, based on a 2017 United States Department of Agriculture study) in Wyoming than there are people (approximately 579,000, per the 2020 U.S. Census). Despite being situated in a state that loves the beef that it produces, the A-A has a sushi stand. That’s right, you can enjoy a California roll ($8), a shrimp tempura roll ($11), or a seaweed salad ($5) while rooting on the Cowboys in Laramie.


Fear not, unadventurous eaters. You will still find cheeseburgers ($6), hot dogs ($4), bratwurst ($5), nachos ($4), and Chugwater chili ($5), a Cowboy State specialty. There is a surprising breadth of sides at the A-A, too, including fries ($6), fried pickles ($6), and onion rings ($6). Wyoming is a Pepsi campus, with regular ($5) and souvenir ($7) sodas. The mini doughnuts ($7) are a culinary revelation, available with cinnamon, sugar, and powdered sugar toppings. They pair well with real (i.e., not instant) coffee.


Craft beer sells for $10, while domestic beer is $8 and hard seltzer is $8. Glenrock, Wyoming’s Cowboy State Brewing has several beers on tap at the A-A, including its 7220 High Altitude IPA, brewed specifically for Wyoming’s athletic events. Not only is the brew’s nominal “7220” a reference to the University’s altitude above sea level, but the IPA also has 7.220 percent alcohol by volume.


Finally, the A-A has the white whale of sporting venues: hand-scooped ice cream. The Big Dipper ice cream shop serves 14 different flavors, including Cherry Jolly Rancher and Wyoming Black Bear. For $10, you can also get a root beer float. This refusal to settle on soft serve, limited to two meager flavors (three if you count “swirl”), is an example that more venues should follow.


Atmosphere 4

A game at the A-A meshes the amenities of college basketball with the passion of fans rooting on their hometown high school team. The A-A is a geodesic dome with seating 360 degrees around the floor. There are no bleachers in the arena, as all seats are chairbacks. There are no obstructed seats. Because the seating area curves away from the playing floor in the middle of the building, the seats nearest to the floor’s corners provide surprisingly good sight lines. Because of the building’s design, the A-A doesn’t have a scoreboard hanging over center court. Instead, two large, scoreboard/video boards placed in the A-A’s upper level ensure that fans can see the score, stats, and video from every seat in the building.


The recently completed renovations have infused life into the A-A. The grand entryway, located on the building’s east side, provides a nice welcome to fans as they enter. The University uses the A-A’s outer concourse to honor all Cowboy and Cowgirl sports, including a wall highlighting the UW Athletic Hall of Fame and touch-screen displays that fans can use to learn more about the school’s athletic history.


Wyoming Hall of Fame Display, Arena-Auditorium, Photo by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey


The student section is close to the play on the floor. Really close. The UW student section begins on the floor, just beyond one of the A-A’s baselines. One wonders why someone thought that placing unrestrained, enthusiastic college kids within arm’s reach of an opponent’s player would be a good idea. Fortunately, Wyoming students exercise restraint and good judgment. Decorum? That might be another story, but only in a good way.


Neighborhood 3

Situated on campus next to War Memorial Stadium, the A-A’s immediate neighborhood lacks bars and restaurants. But it enjoys close proximity to some of the highlights on Wyoming’s campus. Prexy’s Pasture forms the school’s quad. The university’s earliest students grazed their horses in this pasture while attending classes and, even today, UW’s president enjoys exclusive livestock grazing rights on it – although no one has exercised that right recently. Several museums also call the UW campus home, including the University of Wyoming Art Museum and the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, which houses a 75-foot-tall brontosaurus skeleton.


Although bars and restaurants are not across the street from the A-A, they aren’t far. Wyoming’s Rib & Chop House (2415 Grand Avenue, Laramie, WY, 82070), Hambone’s Pizza (2405 Grand Avenue, Laramie, WY, 82070), and Coal Creek Coffee (2317 Grand Avenue, Laramie, WY, 82070) all sit within a 10-minute walk of the A-A’s southeast. Alternatively, downtown Laramie has several pubs and restaurants just a five-minute drive to the west.


There are two hotels within walking distance of the A-A, both to the east. The Hilton Garden Inn Laramie (2229 Grand Avenue, Laramie, WY, 82070) is a half-mile away from the A-A, next to the UW’s visitor center. Slightly farther away is the Holiday Inn Laramie (204 North 30th Street, Laramie, WY, 82070).


Fans 4

As the only NCAA Division I college in the state, Wyomingites love the University’s teams. Fans travel from faraway places like Pine Bluffs, Natrona, and Lander. The A-A doesn’t sell out most of its games but the fans who come are passionate and involved in the action on the floor. The building’s design seems to amplify crowd noise well. Those who don’t wear the school’s brown and gold will instead wear actual cowboy and cowgirl apparel (or, as they call them, “work clothes”).


Access 4

The A-A isn’t tough to find. Interstate 80 passes through Laramie’s south side, with an exit on the town’s east side and another on its west. Regardless of the direction from which fans come, the A-A is less than a ten-minute drive from I-80. With War Memorial Stadium next door, the A-A has plenty of parking. Laramie is not large so the A-A is within quick driving distance of anywhere in town.


There’s a good amount of room to move in the A-A, particularly when considering that it opened in 1982. The new grand entry on the A-A’s east side is the best place to enter. It has ticket windows, room for fans to congregate, and the Sailors Gallery. Staff moves fans briskly inside. The restrooms were renovated as part of the project that ended in 2017; they’re clean and large.


Return on Investment 4

A Wyoming game does not require complex financial transactions to afford. Tickets range from $15-$30. However, a check of third-party ticketing websites shows that tickets can be purchased for even less than that. On-site parking costs $10 and can be pre-purchased through the UW website. However, there is also abundant street parking within walking distance of the A-A that does not cost anything.


Notably, one of college sports’ greatest culinary bargains can be found at the A-A. Fans purchase a plastic bucket of popcorn for $7 and then receive unlimited refills for the rest of the season at $4 a pop. A queue of UW fans holding empty buckets snakes along the concourse like Black Friday 1998 shoppers waiting on the chance to buy Furbys. Beyond that, concession prices are reasonable and help make a game at the A-A relatively less expensive than other MWC venues.


Extras 3

Fans should not miss the Sailors Gallery inside the grand entrance on the A-A’s east side. Opened in 2017, the Sailors Gallery houses the Cowboys’ 1943 NCAA title trophy, as well as an 18-foot, bronze sculpture of that team’s top player, Kenny Sailors. At age 13, Sailors invented the jump shot. He did so to overcome a height disadvantage playing against his older brother, Bud, on a hoop attached to a windmill on the family’s farm near Hillsdale, Wyoming. The younger Sailors later became a three-time All-American at Wyoming and the point guard on that 1943 title team before embarking on a successful professional basketball career. Sailors played in the Basketball Association of America and its successor league, the National Basketball Association. Sailors was also one of the world’s most interesting people. He worked as a pig farmer, fought in World War II for the United States Marine Corps, was elected to Wyoming’s legislature, and lived in an Airstream trailer in Alaska. Sailors’ contributions to basketball warrant his inclusion in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame yet that induction has not come.


Sailors Gallery, Arena-Auditorium, Photo by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey


Check out the team shop, just to the north of the Sailors Gallery. There are several autographed UW jerseys there, including Sailors’s and Fennis Dembo’s. These jerseys are not for sale but help celebrate the school’s basketball history.


In a Hunger Games-meets-Lord of the Flies kind of promotion, a “baby crawl” occurs during one of the game’s timeouts. Parents bring their semi-ambulatory babies to the A-A’s north baseline and, engaging in all sorts of coercive behavior, coax their babies to crawl to the race’s finish line at center court. The crowd provides what is doubtlessly a frightening roar to the winning baby.


Final Thoughts

The A-A isn’t the newest or prettiest basketball venue in the world. But Wyoming’s recent renovations to the A-A honor the school’s athletic history as well as any other such venue. After more than four decades as the Cowboys’ home, the A-A shows no sign of age-induced dread or decline.

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