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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Morrell Gymnasium - Bowdoin Polar Bears


Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00


Morrell Gymnasium

6 Polar Loop

Brunswick, ME 04011



Year Opened: 1965

Capacity: 1,500


Polar Bear Basketball

 

Bowdoin College was the first university chartered in Maine. Founded in 1794, it actually predates the state, beginning its existence when Maine was still a part of Massachusetts. Today the school boasts an enrollment of 1,850 students who study in 35 majors and 40 minors. Considered a “most selective” university and a “Hidden Ivy”, Bowdoin boasts many notable alumni, including Franklin Pierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Robert Peary. The school’s athletic teams are named the “Polar Bears” in honor of Peary’s explorations of the North Pole.

 

Bowdoin athletics have enjoyed a great deal of success over the years, including four national titles in field hockey and another in men’s tennis. Three Olympic gold medalists are Bowdoin alumni. The basketball teams are mainstays in the NCAA tournament, with the men having reached the dance on four occasions and the women on 18 occasions, including finishing as national runners-up in 2004, 2018 and 2019.

 

Morrell Gymnasium is named for Mal Morrell, class of 1923, who served as Bowdoin’s Athletic Director from 1928-1967. It serves as home to the Polar Bear basketball and volleyball teams. Recent renovations added the Peter Buck Fitness Center, as well as redesigning the entryway, lobby and locker rooms in the facility.

 

Food & Beverage 2

 

 There is a table in the lobby which provides some basic snacks during Polar Bears games. Hot dogs, chips and candy are sold here, along with cans of Pepsi products. It’s not much, but it will do the trick if you need a snack during the game. Plus, no item costs more than four dollars.

 

Atmosphere 4

 

The experience at a Bowdoin basketball game will feel familiar to those who have attended games at this level in the past. It’s not an incredibly loud or extravagant presentation, but you will be entertained while watching a game here. Most impressive is the support the basketball teams receive from the student body. During Stadium Journey’s visit the student section was packed and loud throughout the game. It’s not something you see often at a Division Three game.

 

There are scoreboards mounted on either end of the gymnasium that display game information. The PA announcer adds some energy to the proceedings without being too intrusive. Music is played during stoppages at a reasonable volume. Part of the charm of watching a game in a small gym like this is that you are close enough to the action that you can hear the squeak of sneakers, coaches barking instructions to the players, and the chatter on the court.


 

Neighborhood 4

 

Bowdoin College is the focal point of this small town and is located centrally to many of the points of interest in Brunswick. While there’s no dining or lodging options within immediate walking distance of Morrell Gymnasium, Everything you’ll need in this small town is a short five-minute drive to Maine Street (It’s awesome how they added an “e” to Main Street. Still makes me smile).

 

For a town of this size, there’s a surprising amount of attractions for visitors. There’s an active arts and entertainment culture here and plenty of Maine charm to experience. The Maine State Music Theater, Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Bowdoin Museum of Art are all located on the Bowdoin campus.

 

Of course, in this area there is no shortage of breweries. Among the offerings in Brunswick are Brickyard Hollow Brewing, Flight Deck Brewing, Moderation Brewing and Black Pug Brewing. If looking for dining options, locals swear by the Brunswick Diner for a bite to eat, or try some farm-to-table eats at 55 North or some wood-fired pizza at Nomad. Among the many fine boutique hotels in town is the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern, located right near campus. Several chains have locations out by I-295.

 

Of course, visitors wishing to explore the area beyond Brunswick may venture out to Freeport, home of the L.L. Bean Outlet Store, or to Portland, a city with endless dining and cultural options. Portland’s praises have been sung on this site on numerous occasions.

 

Fans 3

 

The basketball teams at Bowdoin enjoy good support from the community. Crowds range in size from 100-300 fans. These numbers are pretty typical of other Division Three schools in the area. Stadium Journey visited Bowdoin for the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2024, with a near-capacity crowd of over 1,200 fans in attendance.

 

Most impressive amongst the typical “friends and family” you see at a small school basketball game was the presence of a packed student section. Just like the student sections you’ll find at larger schools, the kids filled the upper level of Morrell Gymnasium, standing the whole game and taunting the opposition. The gym was filled with noise from this section throughout the game.


 

Access 3

 

Brunswick is a coastal town of over 21,000 residents located about a half hour drive north of Portland. Interstate 295 runs through Brunswick on its way from Portland to Augusta. The Bowdoin campus is located about four miles from the highway, easily accessed by Route 1 and Maine Street (notice what the town did there?). Amtrak’s Nor’easter trains have their terminus here in downtown Brunswick, connecting visitors via rail to Portland, Boston and beyond.

 

Morrell Gymnasium is located on Bowdoin’s main campus, away from the school’s other athletic facilities. Bowdoin is a large campus with lots of green, open space, but you really wouldn’t know it if you’re a visitor unfamiliar with the campus visiting during a dark, winter night. The signage on campus isn’t great, and you may find yourself wandering around Bowdoin as you search for the gym.

 

There is a small parking lot behind Morrell Gymnasium, but this fills quickly, forcing visitors to park in a lot on the opposite side of College Street. Again, this lot is hidden behind some buildings without any signage to alert visitors to its presence. It’s about a half mile walk from this lot to the gym, which may be uncomfortable on a frigid Maine winter night. The path from the lot to the gym is paved, but there are no signs directing you. It’s very possible that you’ll be taking an unplanned tour of campus on your way to the game or back to your car.

 

Once you find the Peter Buck Center, you’ll enter into a bright, attractive lobby where you will see many trophy cases and displays showcasing Bowdoin’s athletic success. Front and center in the lobby is a stuffed Polar Bear, kept fresh inside a glass display case. Two doors on your left will allow you to access the gym. Rest rooms were a bit of a walk from the gym, located in the Smith Union Center next door.

 

There are two levels of seating in Bowdoin Gymnasium, with a few rows of molded plastic bleachers on the lower level and wooden bleachers on the upper level. All seats have great views of the action in this cozy gym.

 

Return on Investment 3

 

As mentioned earlier, Stadium Journey visited Morrell Gymnasium during an NCAA Tournament game, with NCAA mandated ticket prices of $15 for general admission seating. You will undoubtedly be paying less should you be visiting during a regular season game. Like many schools at this level, one admission ticket allows you to see both the men’s and women’s teams play, as long as the schedules line up.

 

Parking is free in the nearby lots, and the concession prices top out at four dollars for any single item. A night watching the Polar Bears play is a most affordable entertainment option for southern Maine sports fans.

 

Extras 2

 

Bowdoin is absolutely a regional athletic powerhouse, and their impressive history is displayed throughout Morrell Gymnasium. Banners honoring tournament appearances by the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the volleyball team, are displayed throughout the gym. Trophy cases and displays in the lobby contain mementos commemorating past Polar Bear victories.

 

An additional extra point is awarded for the stuffed Polar Bear keeping watch in the Morrell Gymnasium lobby.



Final Thoughts

 

Often touted as one of the premier locations to watch Division Three basketball in the country, Morrell Gymnasium doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of Maine charm to go around in Brunswick and nearby Portland. Make a Bowdoin basketball game part of a weekend trip, and you have found yourself a fantastic Stadium Journey well off the beaten path.

 

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

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