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  • Paul Baker

Hart Recreation Center – Holy Cross Crusaders basketball


Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

Hart Recreation Center 1 College Street Worcester, MA 01610


Holy Cross Crusaders men’s basketball website

Hart Recreation Center website


Year Opened: 1975

Capacity: 3,600


 

The Hart of New England Basketball


The Reverend Francis J. Hart Recreation Center is part of the Luth Athletic Complex, a multi-purpose facility located on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA (pronounced “Woostah” by locals). Reverend Hart was the guiding force behind intramural athletics at the College for more than 40 years, and his legacy is honored in this athletic center. John and Joanne Luth donated $32.5 million to the college in 2015 towards expanding and renovating the athletic department. Their donation largely funded the massive renovations to the complex in 2016.


The Hart Recreation Center houses not only the Holy Cross basketball arena, but a 1,400-seat hockey rink, a six-lane swimming pool with separate diving area, rowing tanks, racquetball and squash courts, and the college’s strength and conditioning facilities. Behind the Hart Center is a full-size track, practice fields, soccer field and a lighted turf field which service numerous sports and intramural programs.


Holy Cross has a long and storied basketball history, hosting teams since 1900. The Crusaders won the national championship in 1947 and made it to the Final Four in 1948. Two additional Elite Eight appearances followed in 1950 and 1953. In 1954 the team won the National Invitational Tournament. Overall, the Crusaders have qualified for the NCAA Tournament 13 times, most recently in 2016. Ten Crusader alumni have played in the National Basketball Association, most notably Hall of Famers Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn.


Holy Cross basketball was so highly regarded that they could have joined the Big East Conference when it formed in 1980. The school vetoed the move for academic reasons. Today, Holy Cross competes in the Patriot League, a mid-major conference made up of northeastern schools with high academic standards.


Food & Beverage 3


A pair of concession stands are located in the main lobby. The basic menu contains hot dogs, popcorn chicken and nachos along with a solid lineup of snacks. A side order of tater tots always goes well with your chicken or hot dog.


Cans of Pepsi products can be purchased at these stands along with a selection of hot beverages. In addition, adult beverages can also be found at the concession stands. Greater Good Pulp Daddy, Harpoon Rec League and Sam Adams Octoberfest highlight the offerings.


Here’s a Stadium Journey insider’s tip: there are some vending machines located a bit past the concession stands in the main lobby. Bottles of soda can be found here for $2, a much better deal than the $3 cans of soda at the concession stand. This can be our secret.





Atmosphere 3


Any seasoned college basketball fan will tell you that the small gyms across the country contain some of the most rabid fans and the best game day atmospheres in the country. While the Hart Center doesn’t draw large enough crowds to measure up to the legendary gyms in the nation, there’s no doubt that if this place filled up, it would be a great place to experience a game.


All the elements that make up a solid experience can be found here, including a rowdy student section, pep band, cheerleaders and dance team driving the noise and excitement. There’s a solid sound system and a video board on the far wall of the gym which is put to good use with game stats, graphics and videos. Smaller scoreboards in each corner of the facility display basic game stats.


There are contests held on the floor during play stoppages involving younger fans (and sometimes students) along with the standard smile and flex cams to keep the casual fan engaged. In a small gym like the Hart Center with the small-ish crowds in attendance, you can hear the players on the court and the coaches barking out instructions to their teams. It’s a great place to visit for basketball purists.


Neighborhood 3


Worcester is the second largest city in all of New England, but has never enjoyed much of a reputation as a destination location. That all began to change when the city announced that the Pawtucket Red Sox would be moving to the brand-new Polar Park, located just 2.5 miles from the Holy Cross campus.


Holy Cross is located in southwestern Worcester about three miles from downtown. There isn’t much in the immediate area of campus in terms of dining or lodging options, but the city of Worcester contains many excellent options.


Worcester’s acclaimed “Restaurant Row” on Shrewsbury Street is home to over forty different eateries, shops and salons. It’s a favorite destination for locals looking to enjoy a night on the town. Fans will find additional options in the downtown area around the DCU Center. The up-and-coming Canal District, anchored by the new Polar Park, is rapidly growing and worth a look. Likewise, fans looking for lodging options should head downtown, as there is nothing around Holy Cross.


Traditionally overshadowed by its neighbors in Boston and Providence, Worcester is carving out its own niche as an affordable, attractive alternative to those cities. For fans visiting during ski season, Wachusett Mountain is located just ten miles outside of city limits





Fans 2


Attendance at Holy Cross basketball games has dipped since the Covid pandemic. Where the team used to average somewhere around 1,500 fans per game, for the 2021-22 season this figure decreased to 800 fans per game. While attendance has rebounded a bit in the 2022-23 season, it is still below pre-pandemic levels and Patriot League averages.


One thing that may strike you while at the Hart Center is that the average age of the fans here seems to skew older. The stands are filled with Holy Cross alumni, with a smattering of locals mixed in. Stadium Journey’s most recent visit took place during the semester break, but there’s usually a solid representation from the student body here. No matter what time of year you visit Holy Cross, this is a place where you can feel safe bringing the whole family.


Access 4


The Holy Cross campus is located in southwestern Worcester, at the junction of Interstate 290 and Route 146. Hart Recreation Center is located at the southern edge of campus atop Mount Saint James, adjacent to many of the school’s athletic facilities. There is a large parking lot adjacent to the arena. The College of the Holy Cross’ location gives it spectacular views of the city below.


2016 renovations greatly expanded and modernized the facility. Fans enter into a bright, modern lobby which houses the ticket booths. The basketball arena and hockey rink share a concourse, which is where you’ll find the concession stands, rest rooms and Holy Cross Athletic Hall of Fame. Long gone are the 70’s style carpeting, trophy cases and stained-glass windows of the old Hart Center.


The basketball arena is located to your left as you enter the Hart Center. Fans holding lower-level seats will enter the arena at floor level, while fans holding reserved or upper-level seats will head to the staircases. Lower-level seats consist of molded plastic bleachers. There are three rows of individual plastic stadium seats at the top of the lower level, and metal bleachers make up the balcony seating. All seats at the Hart Center are painted purple and enjoy great views of the court.


There is a concourse inside the arena that circles the entire court. At points, the concourse provides access to the remodeled upper level, overlooking new meeting rooms and a practice court. Standing room is available on this concourse at either end of the court.


Be sure to time your visit to the concession stand and/or restrooms carefully, as lines can form at halftime.





Return on Investment 5


Tickets to Crusader basketball games start at $10 for bleacher seats, with chairback seats priced at $15 and floor seats available for only $20. Discounts are available for youths and seniors. Waiting until game day to buy your tickets increases the price by $3. Parking is free in the large lot adjacent to the Hart Center, and concessions are reasonably priced. All in all, a day at a Crusader basketball game is a most affordable entertainment option for central Massachusetts sports fans.


Extras 3


Extra points are awarded for the sense of history here at the Hart Center. While the glory days of Holy Cross hoops did not occur here (the Crusaders used to play at the old Boston Garden regularly), there are reminders of the school’s success everywhere. A bronze statue of Bob Cousy greets visitors, and the new athletic Hall of Fame is filled with names of Crusader greats. Banners commemorating Crusader tournament appearances and retired numbers hang from the Hart Center rafters, and trophy cases hold mementos from Crusader titles.


Final Thoughts


The Hart Center is one of the nicer small basketball facilities in this part of the country. Taking in a game at Holy Cross is a laid-back, affordable experience in an intimate setting. While Holy Cross no longer competes among the giants in the sport, college basketball historians will enjoy looking around the Hart Center at the reminders of the Crusaders’ glory days.


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



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