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  • Writer's pictureGregory Koch

James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center - Shenandoah Hornets

Photos by Gregory Koch Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center 1188 Ralph Shockey Drive Winchester, VA 22602

Year Opened: 2018 Capacity: 1,737


Oh, Shenandoah!

Located in Winchester, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, Shenandoah University's athletic teams are known as the Hornets and compete in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC). The Hornets' basketball team competes at the James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center on the SU campus. The Wilkins Center opened in 2018 and is also home to the Hornets' volleyball team as well as indoor track. Said indoor running track surrounds the arena floor, and fans will walk across it to get into the arena on gameday.

Food & Beverage 2

There is one concession stand at the Wilkins Center, located at a small window next to the entrance. Options to eat are pretty basic. Hot dogs are $5. as are popcorn, nachos, and a soft pretzel with cheese. Strangely, there is no option to pay less for the pretzel and not get the cheese - you're getting it, or at least paying for it, whether you want it or not. Assorted chips and candy sell for $2. A wide variety of drinks sell for between $2 and $3, including bottled water, assorted sodas, Gatorade, tea (hot and iced), coffee, and hot chocolate. Alcohol is not for sale, however.

Keep in mind the concession stand only opens about 20 minutes before tip-off, well after doors open to the arena.

Atmosphere 4

Walking into the Wilkins Center will put you in a small lobby, featuring murals and plaques honoring Shenandoah athletics. From there, you will walk through a set of doors into the arena proper. Plastic bleachers line both sides of the court, with a couple of metal bleachers behind the basket closest to the entrance. There are a few chairbacks at center court on one side. Most seats are general admission, so fans can sit where they want. We were given conflicting information as to whether the first five rows of chairbacks are all reserved for donors, or only the ones specifically marked reserved. Either way, you should have no problem sitting above the first five rows of chairbacks if you want one, as long as you get there early enough.

During pregame introductions, the lights go out in the Wilkins Center and a spotlight shines on the Hornets' players as they are introduced. During day games, light streams in from outside through the windows at the back of the gym, which reduces the effect of this a bit. Nonetheless, it is impressive for the Division III level. The Hornets also have cheerleaders, who are generally located behind the far basket (opposite side from the entrance) and perform during breaks in the action. There was a sign behind one set of bleachers advertising Shenandoah's Buzzin' Dozen Pep Band, but they were not in attendance when Stadium Journey visited.

Neighborhood 3

Winchester is a small city located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. There are several restaurants located near the stadium, ranging from sports bars to barbecues to homemade ice cream. Since Shenandoah's campus is located near the highway, pretty much everything in Winchester is right there. While Winchester certainly isn’t a bustling city, it does have that small-town charm.

History buffs may also want to visit the many Civil War sites in and around Winchester, which played a major role in the conflict. The city changed hands 72 times during the war and was known as the Shuttlecock of the Confederacy.

Fans 4

Shenandoah draws reasonably well for the Division III level, and their gym will be mostly full for the typical home game. The side with the chairbacks will typically be more full than the other side. Some passionate fans, mostly but not entirely students, opt for behind the basket closest to the entrance where the metal bleachers are. They either sit in the bleachers themselves, or stand in front of them along the rope that separates the seating area from the court. After big plays at that end of the court (huge defensive plays in the first half or big baskets in the second), the fans in this area will run up to the ropes, shout, and cheer on the Hornets to celebrate the big play.

Fans in other areas can get loud as well - you can certainly feel the buzz in the building after big plays. While it certainly doesn't match the crowd at most Division III arenas, Shenandoah fans are remarkably loud, loyal, and passionate for the Division III level.

Access 4

The nearest highway to Shenandoah's campus is Interstate 81, and it is easily accessible via Exit 313B. Fans coming from the east or west will need to take State Route 7 or U.S. Route 50 at least part of the way, and while these are not full-blown highways, you can usually make good time. Once you get on the Shenandoah campus, there is a large lot next to the Wilkins Center that fans can park in. The lobby is small, but once you are in the arena proper, it is easy to move around thanks to the spacious track providing ample space.

Restrooms are available inside the arena on the side where the entrance is. Women's rooms are in the corners while the men's room is in the center. They are modern, clean, and of a sufficient size for most crowds. There is also a family restroom next to the men's room.

Return on Investment 5

According to the Shenandoah website, admission to Hornets games is just $6 with youth getting in for $4, and tickets must be purchased in advance through the Ticket Spicket app. However, when Stadium Journey visited, nobody was checking tickets at the entrance and we were able to walk in without scanning ours. It is unclear if this is always the case, but we have experienced similar things before at other Shenandoah athletic events. Even if tickets do cost $6, that certainly won't break the bank. When combined with affordable concession prices, a trip to a Shenandoah basketball game is an excellent value.

Extras 3

One star for the loud crowd behind the basket, including fans right up against the ropes that surround the court.

A second star for the plaques and displays in the lobby honoring Shenandoah athletics.

A third and final star for the pregame introductions, featuring spotlights on the Shenandoah players. You rarely see such an impressive display at the Division III level.

Final Thoughts

Although Division III is the lowest level of the NCAA, you wouldn't know it from a trip to the James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center. It is a modern arena with all the amenities you would expect, a great crowd, and an excellent atmosphere. For basketball fans in the Winchester area, a Shenandoah University basketball game is well worth the trip.


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