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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Costello Athletic Center – UMass Lowell River Hawks

Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71

Costello Athletic Center 175 Riverside St Lowell, MA 01854

Year Opened: 1964

Capacity: 2,000


River Hawk Hoops

The University of Massachusetts – Lowell got its start in the 1890s as two separate institutions, the Lowell Normal School (later renamed Lowell State College) and the Lowell Textile School (later renamed Lowell Textile Institute). These two schools merged in 1975 to become the University of Lowell. In 1991 it joined the University of Massachusetts system. Today UMass Lowell is the second largest campus in Massachusetts, with an enrollment of over 18,000 students in almost 200 Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral programs. Total enrollment has increased 50 percent since 2007.

The Costello Athletic Center was built in 1964 to house several of the University of Lowell’s athletic programs. Today it serves as the home to UMass-Lowell’s men’s and women’s basketball programs. In 2020 the facility underwent a $3.05 million renovation to modernize the gym, create office space for the program and to add new fan amenities.

UMass Lowell has been competing in the America East Conference since moving the program up to the Division One level in 2013. Long a Division Two powerhouse, the school competed in 10 D-2 Tournaments, winning a national title in 1988. The school has yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament since moving up to Division One. While no River Hawk alumnus has played in the National Basketball Association, Stan Van Gundy, who coached the squad from 1988-1992, has coached several NBA teams.

Food & Beverage 1

There is a small snack cart in the front hallway that serves up a few items for hungry River Hawk fans. Hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn and candy are available along with Pepsi products. While it’s not an extensive list, no item costs more than four dollars.

Atmosphere 3

The America East Conference holds its postseason tournament at campus sites. One can only imagine the home-court advantage the tiny CAC would provide should the River Hawks ever host the game. Stadium Journey had the privilege of visiting during the program’s first ever sellout at the D-1 level. This occurred during the semester break without a great deal of representation from the student body. Even without the students, all the elements for a great time are in place.

The pep band takes up residence on the near end balcony, playing during all stoppages. This is a great improvement over the usual piped-in music many arenas use. The student section (aka “The Nest”) is situated on the same balcony, freeing up the far side balcony for the rest of the fans. While many of the students had yet to return to campus, the “Flag Guy,” decked out in a UMass Lowell hockey jersey was there, standing at center court doing his thing in response to every River Hawk three pointer or big play.

The cheerleading squad lines up along the baseline and performs throughout the game. The PA announcer leans into his work, filling this small gym with even more noise. There are contests (i.e. dizzy bat race, dress like a hawk) for the younger fans in attendance during every play stoppage. It makes for a family-friendly and entertaining time, even when the CAC is not packed to the rafters with fans.

Neighborhood 3

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell is located in the north-central part of the city of Lowell, right near the city line of adjoining Dracut. The campus straddles the Merrimack River along the rapids that used to fuel the mills that made this area a magnet for industry back in the day.

Lowell long had a poor reputation as a city with low employment, high poverty and crime rates which was best to avoid. Statistics show that Lowell is as safe or safer than other similarly-sized cities in the area, but the reputation continues.

Lowell is a working-class city. There isn’t much in the immediate vicinity of the CAC to draw visiting fans, but visitors to the city may be interested in exploring the Lowell National Historic Park, which has preserved several old textile mills to tell the story of the industrial revolution. On the grounds of the park is a memorial to native son Jack Kerouac, who was one of the icons of the “Beat Generation.”

Most out-of-towners will likely make their way to nearby Boston, 25 miles to the southeast, but for those looking to stay in town, most lodging options are located out by Interstate 495. There are many excellent smaller restaurants scattered throughout Lowell. Visitors may want to check out Good Thymes or Cobblestones.

Fans 2

It can be a bit tough to accurately gauge attendance numbers at UMass Lowell. The CAC’s capacity is listed at 2,000, although the venue feels a lot smaller than that. Stadium Journey had the good fortune to be at the River Hawks’ first-ever sellout at the Division One level in January 2023. The box score lists that game’s attendance at 850. A look at attendance figures from past years lists average attendance generally in the neighborhood of 1,100 fans. So we’ll take these numbers at face value.

Stadium Journey visited the CAC during the semester break, just before students had returned to class, so the student section (aka “The Nest”) was filled with other fans, mostly locals and families. Since the America East conference has a compact geographical footprint, it’s not unusual to see a good representation from visiting fans. The fans that packed the CAC were into the game, but not overly rowdy. It is a comfortable and affordable place to bring the family.

Access 3

The Costello Athletic Center is located on the north bank of the Merrimack River along with several of the university’s other athletic facilities, including Cushing Field. The school’s more noteworthy sports facilities, Tsongas Center and LeLacheur Park, are located on the other side of the river. Interstate 495 travels to the south of Lowell, meaning that to reach the UMass-Lowell campus one has to drive through the city. There is ample free parking near the CAC in the North Garage and Riverside Lots.

The CAC is a tiny building, with little wasted space. Fans will enter through the front door into a small lobby where they can purchase tickets and enter the building. All tickets are sold as general admission. Fans wishing to sit in the four rows of floor-level seating will proceed directly ahead, those wishing to sit on the balcony will proceed to the stairs located at either end of the hallway. All seats are molded plastic bleachers with excellent views of the action. Rest rooms are clean and large enough for the typical River Hawk crowd. Just time your trips to the snack cart and rest rooms appropriately.

Return on Investment 5

Tickets to River Hawks games are sold as general admission for just ten dollars. Seniors and members of the military can purchase tickets for eight dollars, with youth tickets discounted to five dollars.

Parking is free in the Riverside lot near the Costello Athletic Center. Snacks are inexpensive, making a trip to a River Hawk basketball game a most affordable entertainment option for local sports fans.

Extras 2

An extra point is awarded for the displays visiting fans will encounter in the front hallway at Costello Athletic Center. The UMass Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame is located here. Fans may recognize the names of many NHL players among the honorees, as well as MLB Gold Glove catcher Mike LaValliere. Other displays honor championship teams, award winners and All-Americans. There’s even an interesting display on the school’s history to be found.

A second extra point is awarded for the renovations that took place at the CAC in 2020. What was formerly dead space behind one end of the court has been transformed into bright, new office space and a lounge area. The closing off of this open end has created a cozy, intimate gym for the River Hawks.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to get overshadowed in the crowded sports scene in greater Boston. It’s even easier to be overlooked when you play basketball at a hockey school in the area. Still, the UMass Lowell River Hawks have managed to create a fun and affordable game experience within the cozy confines of the Costello Athletic Center.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.


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