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  • Writer's pictureGregory Koch

Michael P. O'Brien Athletics & Recreation Center Arena – St Mary’s (MD) Seahawks

Photos by Gregory Koch, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.29

Michael P. O'Brien Athletics & Recreation Center Arena 19200 College Dr St. Marys City, MD 20686

Year Opened: 2005 Capacity: 1.200


The Other St. Mary's

When sports fans think of St. Mary’s College, they usually think of the school in Moraga, California that produces the occasional basketball upset of Gonzaga. However, there is another school of that name as well, St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Unlike other schools of that name, this St. Mary’s is a public university that gets its name not from a Catholic saint but from St. Mary’s City, Maryland, where it is located.

St. Mary’s City was the first colonial settlement in the State of Maryland, and the fourth-oldest permanent English settlement in what was then the Thirteen Colonies. Today, half of the city is a state-run historical preservation and reconstruction area similar to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, also known as Historic St. Mary’s City, while the other half is occupied by the modern-day SMCM campus. Although the original St. Mary’s City was once a thriving port town, its population had dropped to just 100 by 1644. Today, almost 400 years later, the population is just 733, almost all of them associated with either the college or the historic site.

SMCM’s athletic teams are known as the Seahawks, and they compete at the NCAA’s Division III level in the United East Conference. Since 2005, the Seahawks basketball team has competed at the Michael P. O'Brien Athletics and Recreation Center Arena. The long name is because the arena is part of a larger building of the same name (minus the "Arena" part.) This building contains a student recreational facility, a swimming pool, and the athletic department's offices.

Food & Beverage 1

There is a concession stand at the St. Mary's arena, but it was closed when we visited. However, there are vending machines in the lobby near the restrooms that sell snacks, water, soda, and Gatorade at vending machine prices. Fans can bring these, or other outside food and beverages, into the arena with them.

Atmosphere 2

St. Mary's plays their games in a small arena, seating just 1,200 fans. The first few rows on each side are chairbacks, while the remainder are plastic bleachers. All seats are general admission, and given the small crowds, you should have no problem finding a chairback. Wherever you sit, you will be up close to the action..

There is not much going on here other than the game itself, as you might expect at Division III. This means you will hear everything that happens on the court, from squeaking shoes to coaches shouting at their players. Some may enjoy this purist experience, while others may find it quite boring.

Neighborhood 3

St. Mary’s City contains precisely two things – the St. Mary’s College campus and Historic St. Mary’s City, which is a historical reconstruction park similar to Colonial Williamsburg and Plymouth Plantation. It is a popular field trip site for Maryland schoolchildren, and tens of thousands of others visit the site every year as well. It is well worth a visit for the colonial history buff, but for just about anything else, you’re going to have to go into a neighboring town like Lexington Park.

There are some places to eat up and down Three Notch Road (Route 235) and Point Lookout Road (Route 5), and some hotels that are mainly used by people visiting the historic site, but you’re going to have to drive at least 10-15 minutes to get there.

Fans 2

The Seahawks typically draw only a few dozen fans a game – on a good day they might get 50 or 75. Most of them are friends or family of the players, but you do get the occasional local, or perhaps some tourists who got bored of the historical site and want to do something else for a day. The fans who do show up are not particularly involved, and with so few of them, it wouldn't matter much if they were. Sports is simply not a huge deal at St. Mary's and basketball is no exception.

Access 3

Unless you’re already in town to visit the historical site, getting to the St. Mary’s campus will take some driving. Maryland Route 5 and Maryland Route 235 both serve the area, but it’s a long drive from any major city along mostly local roads. It is two hours from Baltimore and an hour and 45 minutes from Washington, DC.

Keep in mind that if you are planning to travel here from areas across the Potomac River or the Chesapeake Bay, particularly the Northern Neck of Virginia or Maryland’s Eastern Shore, places that look close on a map may actually be a long drive away as there are no bridges across either body of water at this location. A map may show that the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore is only about 40 miles away as the crow flies. Still, it would be difficult if not impossible to see both the Hawks and the Seahawks on the same day as getting from St. Mary’s to Princess Anne requires a three and a half hour drive up to Annapolis, across the Bay Bridge, and back down. Likewise, parts of Virginia’s Northern Neck are only about ten miles away as the crow flies, but require almost a two-hour drive as the nearest bridge is many miles away.

Once you make it onto the campus, free parking is available in Lot V next to the arena or lot V-1 on the other side. Although it is marked as being for faculty and staff only, you will be allowed to park here without issue on gameday.

Restrooms are around the corner from the arena doors, in the lobby near the vending machines. They are more than sufficient for the small crowds.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets are available in the lobby for $5, parking is free, and you won't pay more than a couple of dollars for the vending machine items that function as concessions. So a trip to a St. Mary's game certainly won't break the bank. However, it is hard to justify an experience as basic as this earning the top score.

Extras 1

‘Look for the banner honoring Jamie Roberts. Roberts was a former St. Mary's women's basketball player who also starred in soccer and lacrosse for the Seahawks. Sadly, she was killed in 2014 during a cross-country bike ride to raise money to fight cancer. St. Mary's soccer and lacrosse stadium is also named after her.

Final Thoughts

College sports, including basketball, are simply not a huge deal at St. Mary's College of Maryland. This is the Division III level, the lowest level of NCAA basketball, and that is reflected in the experience. However, for those like us who think all basketball is good basketball, a trip to a St. Mary's Seahawks game can be an enjoyable experience.

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