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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Hartsell Arena – Pensacola State College Pirates

Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.57

Hartsell Arena College Blvd Pensacola, FL 32502

Year Opened: 1948

Capacity: 1,000


JUCO B-ball in Pensacola

Pensacola State College opened its doors in 1948 as Pensacola Junior College, the first college of any kind in the Pensacola area. PSC is the largest college in west Florida with 36,000 students. In 2010 the college began operating as a four-year university and began offering bachelor’s degrees. To reflect these changes it changed its name to Pensacola State College. However, even though PSC is now a four-year university, its athletic programs still compete at the JUCO level.

Pensacola State currently fields five sports and competes in the NJCAA Panhandle Conference, which includes four other schools in the panhandle area of Florida (Northwest Florida State College, Chipola College, Tallahassee CC, and Gulf Coast State College). The Pirates have won 16 Panhandle Conference Titles and 5 Florida State titles, but perhaps the Pirates greatest feat happened during the 1992-93 season, when the Pirates claimed their first and only NJCAA National Championship. The Pirates were coached during this time period by current UL-Lafayette head coach Bob Marlin, who led PSC to a 123-35 record during his five years at the school and claimed NJCAA National Coach of the Year honors for the 1992-93 season.

Hartsell Arena was renovated in 1988 with the addition of the Lou Ross Center. Named after the first basketball coach at PSC, the building includes the athletic department offices, PSC Athletics Hall of Fame, ticket office, and an Olympic-sized indoor pool. The arena originally opened when the college opened, but it wasn’t much until the addition of the Ross Center in 1988. The arena was renovated again in 2005 after Hurricane Ivan caused extensive damage to the college the year before, and in 2007 the venue was officially renamed Hartsell Arena, named after former school president Ed Hartsell. Notable members of the Hall of Fame include former Miami Heat center and 2-time NBA Champion Joel Anthony, current Vice President of the Utah Jazz Dennis Lindsey, former San Francisco Giant infielder Greg Litton, and professional boxer Roy Jones Jr.

Food & Beverage 1

There is a very small stand located on the concourse to the left as soon as you walk into the building. The options are limited to hamburgers ($4), nachos ($3), hot dogs ($2.50), and chips and candy ($2), with Coke being the soft drink provider selling 20oz bottles for $2. Overall the prices are reasonable but the options are extremely limited, so my recommendation would be to get something at one of the Pensacola area restaurants.

Atmosphere 3

The arena is located on the west side of the Lou Ross Center, with one main entrance on the south side of the building. As soon as you walk in the door there is a hallway that serves as the makeshift concourse. The beautiful and spacious concourse is a pretty nice set up with carpeted floors and the concession stands to the left, plus the PSC Athletics Hall of Fame with myriad trophies the school has won over the years.

The most noticeable thing you notice when entering the court is the ceiling – the arch shaped ceiling is unique and definitely makes the place stand out. The whole court is also lit up really well with the court facing north and south, with two main entrances onto the court. Seats on the east side of the building extend 6 rows, and they are actually pretty comfortable chair back seats with cup holders that extend from one end of the court to the other. On the west side of the building there are 12 rows of bleacher-style seats that also extend from all the way along the sideline.

Also, covering the walls of the building are all the men’s and women’s championship banners, including the 1993 JUCO National Championship banner located on the east wall of the building, and the trophy located in the trophy case in the hallway where you walked in. The atmosphere on both sides is pretty relaxed, and there are local high school cheerleading squads that perform during halftime. But other than that there isn’t much in terms of entertainment; there isn’t even music played during timeouts, although the PA announcer does a good job of trying to pump up the crowd.

Pensacola State Banners, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey

Neighborhood 4

The campus is located in a fairly busy area of Pensacola. Directly across the street to the west lies the gigantic Sacred Heart Hospital, and directly across the street to the east lies Pensacola International Airport. Directly across the street to the south lies Cordova Mall, the largest indoor shopping center in western Florida, with chain stores including Dick’s, Best Buy, Dillard’s, and Belk, and you can also find just about any typical mall store inside. In addition, outside the mall in the parking lot you can find all kinds of restaurants such as Panera Bread, Red Robin, Twin Peaks, Chick-fil-A, Zoes Kitchen, Steak ‘n Shake, Chili’s, Newk’s, and Firehouse Subs. A restaurant I recommend in the Cordova Mall parking lot is BJ’s Brewhouse – BJ’s is a typical bar food set up that brews its own beer inside the restaurant and has over 60 beers on tap. The Tuscan Oven Pizzeria across the street is a pretty popular pizza place as well.

In addition to the mall, if you go down the main road (9th Street) you can find every typical chain restaurant found in most decent sized cities. There is a movie theatre and a bowling alley located across the street as well, but if you want to experience Pensacola’s nightlife at its best then take a 15-minute drive south to Seville Quarter or Palafox Street. Seville Quarter, which is modeled after New Orleans’ French Quarter, has many different bars and restaurants and is Pensacola’s main nightlife spot. In addition, Palafox Street has hundreds of different bars and restaurants; downtown Pensacola is a really pretty and popular downtown spot and I definitely recommend making a trip down there if you are in town.

Fans 2

For this level of basketball there isn’t going to be more than a couple hundred fans in attendance on any particular night, and because of this fans are pretty reserved for the most part, but there are often a lot of visiting fans in attendance because of the close proximity of many of the schools in the conference. There is a small student section taking up the whole of the southwest grandstands, but most of them are playing on their phones. But for the most part many of the fans seem to be either friends or family members of the players, or visiting fans from out of town. Also, because there is not any music being played in the arena, it definitely takes away from the fan engagement.

Access 3

Depending on which way you are coming to PSC determines whether the access is convenient or not. The campus is located on the northeast side of the city just south of I-10, so if coming from the east or west, I-10 will be your best bet. Just take Davis Highway, which is one of the main highways in Pensacola, and the campus is located a couple of blocks east of the road.

Things can be a bit more difficult if coming from the downtown area, as traffic can be terrible depending on what time of day it is – from there just take I-110 to the Brent Lane exit and the campus is located just off 9th Street; though the campus is only about 8 miles from downtown, with traffic taken into consideration the drive could be a lot longer. Luckily the bulk of the weeknight games tipoff at 7:30 pm. which allows for plenty of time for traffic to die down.

If flying in from out of town, the campus is conveniently located directly across the street from the airport – you could fly into Pensacola and walk across the street and you’ll be there is less than 5 minutes. PSC is mostly a commuter school, however, so although 36,000 students are enrolled, it doesn’t mean the campus is so large that it’s difficult to find your way around. There is also a lot of construction going on around campus right now, so certain roads and some parking lots tend to be blocked off. However, Hartsell Arena is located in the center of campus, so it is not hard to find and there is plenty of parking near the venue.

Return on Investment 3

Tickets are five bucks which allows you to sit anywhere in the arena, and they allow re-entry so you can come and go. The concessions are cheap and parking is not a hassle at all, so I consider this a good return on investment. Games are pretty short on the JUCO level, rarely exceeding an hour and a half total, so you won’t be in the building long before the game is over.

Extras 2

The Lou Ross Center, the building that houses the basketball arena, is a favorite stop for presidential candidates who use the venue for their campaign stops in Pensacola. Bob Dole, Dick Cheney, and John McCain have all used the Lou Ross Center during their presidential bids.

The building is also a beautiful structure and has been completely redone following Hurricane Ivan’s damage in 2004.

Final Thoughts

Hartsell Arena is actually a pretty nice building for this level of college basketball. Its low-arched ceilings, comfortable chair back seats, and well-lit interior make for a very pleasant place to watch a basketball game. I don’t recommend going out of your way, but if you are in the area and want to catch a quick college basketball game then check out Pensacola State College.

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