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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

John M. Belk Arena – Davidson Wildcats

Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

John M. Belk Arena 200 Baker Dr. Davidson, NC 28036

Year Opened: 1989

Capacity: 5,295


All Hail, O Davidson

Some might only know of Davidson College basketball from the success of the Wildcats in the early 2000s, highlighted by an Elite Eight run led by Steph Curry. However, their high level of success on the hardwood dates back nearly 50 years prior – under Naismith and College Basketball Hall of Fame coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, Davidson put themselves on the college basketball map during the 1960s. Driesell took Davidson to back-to-back National Quarterfinals in 1968 and ’69; he also lead them to four Top 10 end-of-season rankings in his decade at Davidson.

Davidson would struggle to find consistency following Lefty’s departure after the 1969 season, only finishing with back-to-back winning campaigns once. It wasn’t until Bob McKillop was hired in 1989 that the Wildcats found their winning ways again. Under McKillop, Davidson strung together 29 consecutive winning seasons in his 33 years on the sidelines of Belk Arena, which included 19 postseason appearances. McKillop’s tenure was further highlighted by a run from 2004 to 2009, which saw a 128-40 (.762) record for the Wildcats, including three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and capped by a run in the 2008 tournament to the Elite Eight.

After spending more than 70 seasons as members of the Southern Conference, Davidson jumped to its current home in the Atlantic-10 (A-10) Conference at the start of the 2014-15 season.

Davidson has called John M. Belk Arena home since 1989, when Baker Sports Complex which houses the arena replaced the 2,500 seat Johnston Gym, which the Wildcats had used since 1949; today Johnston Gym has been repurposed as the Knobloch Campus Center.

Food & Beverage   4

Concessions are split between the upper and lower levels of Baker Sports Complex – the lower level has a more traditional concession stand, which serves just about everything one would expect in arena concessions, but also offers a decent break from the norm. The typical fare of hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, soft pretzels, chips, and candy are all available. The addition of burgers, spicy chicken sandwiches, and chicken nuggets are also a nice addition, as these items are not found in most arenas. Davidson offers beverages from the Pepsi line of soft drinks, along with Gatorade.

The upper level concessions are a bit more specialized, including bratwurst with onions and peppers, steamed bagel sandwiches from Sully’s Steamers, Domino's pizza, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream served in freshly baked waffle cones.

Local restaurant Brickhouse Tavern also sets up shop to pour beer from local NoDa Brewing Company; Davidson sells three of NoDa’s brews, featuring the Davidson branded O’Davidson Lager. Pinot Gris is also available.

While the set up might not be ideal with the concessions being separated, the offerings more than make up for the minor inconvenience of possibly having to visit two different locations to fill all food and beverage needs.


Atmosphere   4

John M. Belk Arena is part of the larger Baker Sports Complex – the facility not only houses Belk Arena, but also the college’s swim facility and other athletic department services. Viewed from the front along Baker Drive, the building’s brick exterior and columned overhang give it a much more historical feel than its 34 years of service might suggest, while the entry from Harry L. Vance Athletic Center has a much more modern feel, with its use of bricks, glass, and curves.

Seating is divided into court level seats along both sidelines, with a matching level of upper seating. The lower level of seating remains rather tight, while the upper level of seats is a bit more spacious. Two rows of courtside seating are also available opposite each of the team benches, and clusters of student seating are located at court level on each end of the floor.

Davidson’s marketing and promotional team puts a great deal of work into making sure stoppages in play are full of some sort of entertainment. The small yet spirited Davidson pep band takes up a portion of the near end bleachers, and often fills time leading into timeouts as the cheer squad or in-game host prepares for a routine or on-court game. Just about every break in the action is filled with a game or contest featuring students or kids from the stands. The rest of the time is used by the in-house DJ, who makes his presence felt until the ball is put back in play.

Since there is no center hung scoreboard, the arena has a very open feel. Rather than the overhead scoreboard, single panel boards are hung high above the seating at each end of the floor, while smaller, more basic time and score displays are located in each of the corners at court level. The large boards not only give fans a live feed of the game, but also have a real-time update of player scoring and foul totals.

The dead time during stoppages in play is filled with on-court recognitions, contests, cheer displays , and t-shirt tosses. The downtime until the ball is put back in play is definitely used well and is engaging to fans.

Given the configuration of Belk Arena, there really is not a bad seat in the house. Seats in the lower level of the arena are right on top of the action, while the lower rows of the upper level are high enough to not have to deal with passersby in front blocking your view. The upper reaches of the second level do tend to get a bit warm though.


Neighborhood   4

Davidson, North Carolina is a quaint lake community of approximately 15,000 people, located just north of Charlotte in the northern most reaches of Mecklenburg County. Main Street Davidson runs along the front edge of campus and is spotted with restaurants, coffee houses, and shops. Those looking for a pregame meal might want to check out Brickhouse Tavern or Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse, which are two of the more popular eateries near campus. For race fans, about 10 minutes north and just off I-77 in nearby Mooresville, auto racing enthusiasts might find the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame of interest.

On campus, Davidson’s athletic facilities cradle the eastern edge of campus. Baker Sports Complex that houses Belk Arena is neighbored by the soon-to-be retired Richardson Stadium the longtime home of Davidson football and track & field, as well as the outdoor tennis pavilion. Visitors for last season games might be able to pair a baseball game at Wilson Field, or even lacrosse or tennis, if those teams happen to be at home.


Fans   3

Despite ranking in the lower half of the Atlantic-10 Conference in total attendance, Wildcat fans consistently occupy around two-thirds of the capacity in 5,295-seat Belk Arena.

Davidson’s enrollment of nearly 2,000 students does not lend itself to large crowds. However, a notable portion of the student body, roughly 200-300 students, regularly attend games, contributing to the vibrant atmosphere – the remaining audience comprises a mix of alumni and Davidson residents who come out to support the home team.

Many of those in attendance sit in the court level seats, creating a notably lively atmosphere. A lot of credit should go to the student sections, nicknamed the “D Block”, at each end of the floor, who really bring a lot of passion to the game.


Access   4

Davidson is less than 2 miles from I-77 that runs north from Charlotte. Other than typical traffic congestion the area is relatively straightforward to reach.

The Baker Street entrance to campus leads directly to Belk Arena and the adjacent parking lot. For those looking to save on parking and willing to walk a bit, street parking on Davidson city streets might be an option. Make sure to be aware of posted parking signs and regulations.

There are several entry points into Belk Arena. Fans parking in the lot adjacent to the facility will find the most convenient entrance through the upper level of Harry L. Vance Athletic Center. The doors on the lower level offer the easiest access to floor seating, though another access point is through the front doors of Baker Sports Complex, which houses indoor tennis, swimming, wrestling facilities, along with Belk Arena.

The lobby area that transitions between Baker Sports Complex and Belk Arena serves as a gathering spot for fans before they move to their seats for the game. A spacious, continuous walkway separates the upper and lower seating, providing fans with plenty of room to move around without encountering congestion.

Return on Investment   3

Get in the door prices start at around $23 for upper-level seating, which seems a bit high when factoring in $10 for parking on top of the ticket cost; this combination is one of the higher prices in the A-10. Typically, a higher priced ticket will be accompanied by free parking, so the combination of ticket prices and parking rates are a bit of an investment, even for the lowest priced tickets.

Concession prices do appear to be rather reasonable when looking at typical arena rates.


Extras   4

It would be easy to think that the school which gained widespread recognition for its successes in the NCAA tournament, and the unprecedented NBA career of Steph Curry, would see him plastered on every inch of the facility. However, while Curry’s career is well recognized here, it tastefully does not overshadow the rest of Davidson basketball history.

The Williamson Concourse pays homage to the achievements of Davidson basketball during the '60s, under the leadership of Lefty Driesell – the area features large photos of players, a sizable replica of a Sports Illustrated cover labeling Davidson a "Challenge to UCLA", and other significant moments from this era of Wildcat basketball.

Just outside Belk Arena, a display commemorates the life of Mike Maloy, the first Black athlete at Davidson and a key member of the Wildcats success in the late 1960s.

Lux, the Wildcat mascot, is a visible part of the in-game entertainment, helping the spirt squad hype up the crowd during timeouts and dead ball situations.


Final Thoughts

Even though Davidson basketball might not be at the height of years past, the program remains competitive enough to be a headache for any opponent they face. Fans can expect highly contested game on nightly basis.

When considering the overall peripheral factors that contribute to the game experience, a Davidson game would be a wonderful addition when visiting the Charlotte area. 

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