- Matt Colville
Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium - Bellhaven Blazers
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium 1500 Peachtree Street Jackson, MS 39202
Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium website
Year Opened: 1950s
Belhaven University is a small private Christian university located in Jackson, MS. The college was founded in 1883 through the merger of two schools, Mississippi Synodical College & McComb Female Institute. The school’s current location opened in 1894 in the mansion of former Confederate Colonel Jones S. Hamilton. The mansion was named Belhaven, and hence is how the university got its name. In 1927 a lightning strike destroyed the mansion, which housed the university’s only classrooms – the columns that stand today on the west side of the campus are the only remnants of the old college.
The college was originally an all-female institute, however in 1954 males began being admitted the school, with a basketball program being established two years later. The college has a current enrollment of a little over 4,200 students, and fields 15 sports that compete in Division III’s American Southwest Conference (ASC). The Blazers are an odd man out in the conference, as 11 of the 13 schools that compete in the conference are from Texas.
Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium currently seats around 500 people and is named for Charles A. Rugg, coach of the Blazers basketball team from 1964-1986. The arena originally opened in the 1950’s, but was renovated with the addition of Heidelberg Gymnasium in 1999. The facility now houses a separate gymnasium for intramural teams, weight rooms, an athletic training facility, and locker rooms for football.
Food & Beverage 0
There is one permanent stand located in the gym but it was closed during the most recent game I attended. The stand is open for most games though, the reason it was closed on this particular night was the game being during Christmas break and most of the students not being on campus.
Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium is nice and small and definitely suits the team well, but it’s basically the same style setup you would find at a local city sportsplex or rec center. It’s a squared shaped building in the center of campus with the court facing east and west with one entrance on the south side of the building. As soon as you walk into the building you find yourself already on the concourse less than 20 feet from the playing surface. There is one set of restrooms on this side as well as a small trophy case, plus 6 rows of bleacher style seats on this side of the building which take up the entire south side of the court. The arena has regular bench seating with the seats painted the Blazers colors of green and gold. The north side of the building is filled with the team’s benches and scoring tables, so there is no seating on that side of the arena.
Belhaven’s campus is located in a mostly residential area north of downtown. The campus is located a couple blocks from their biggest rival and the team they played on the most recent night I attended, the Millsaps College Majors. While there is nothing within walking distance of the college, just a short drive north will take you to the Fondren District – located near the Ole Miss Med School this is Jackson’s nightlife area, and you will find numerous restaurants and bars on this one block strip, my favorite being Fondren Public. Bocce ball, corn hole, shuffle board, over-sized Jenga and multiple board games can be played inside and outside the bar, so this eatery has a really cool feel to it. There are numerous other bars and restaurants located in Fondren as well, however, such as Pig & Pint (known for its BBQ), Walker’s Drive In, Babalu Tapas & Tacos, and Sal & Mookie’s Pizza. But another bar in the area I recommend checking out is Brent’s Drugs – from the outside it looks like a regular pharmacy, and with the soda fountain inside it’s very reminiscent of a 50’s-style diner. However, in the back there is a speakeasy style bar that was used during the prohibition era – it’s a very interesting bar and it gets pretty packed at night.
There are also numerous bars in the downtown area, a couple of miles south of campus, such as Hal and Mal’s, Fenians, and Old Tavern on George Street. In addition, Underground 119 is a cool underground blues bar located in downtown as well. However, the downtown area is not exactly the safest area so use caution when walking after dark.
Lakeland Drive is located about a mile north of Belhaven’s campus and you can find all the usual chain restaurants and lodging in that area. For attractions in the area I recommend checking out the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which is a very nice interactive museum that doesn’t get too packed during the week, and you could spend hours just walking through all the different exhibits located in the museum. The Hall of Fame is located on Lakeland Drive right next to historic Smith-Wills Stadium, former home of the Jackson Mets and current home of the Belhaven baseball team.
One good thing about playing in such a small arena is that the fans are right up on the court engaged in the action, with the farthest rows of seats located only about 15 feet from the court. On the night I most recently attended the Blazers played their crosstown-rival Millsaps College and it was a packed house. Fans were very into the game with the crowd a mix of alumni, students, and teachers from each school. However, the reason fans packed the house on this particular night was because of the rivalry match-up; most games at Belhaven get maybe only about 100 fans in attendance.
The campus is located north of downtown a couple of blocks west of Interstate 55. If coming from any direction I-55 will be your best option – take the Fortification Street exit and then turn north on Greymont Street, which will run you right into campus. Once on campus Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium can be difficult to find as it looks just like the rest of the buildings on campus.
The gym is located on the north side of campus right next to the brand new football stadium that opened in 2016. Once inside the arena the concourse is easy to navigate and you should have no trouble walking down and taking a seat. The seating bowl can only hold about 500 fans so walking the concourse, or trying to find somebody in the crowd, won’t be difficult at all.
Return on Investment 5
Admission is free, parking is free, and there was no concessions stand open on the night I most recently attended, so this makes a great value for fans. I was able to watch a cross town rivalry game between two schools, one of which was undefeated, for absolutely free.
One extra for closeness of the game action – you feel as if you are on top of the action the whole game, and it definitely enhances the atmosphere in the building to be able to sit that close.
Another extra point for the World’s Oldest Singing Christmas tree, which is performed on the Belhaven campus every December. What is a singing Christmas tree you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like – a giant Christmas
tree with platforms where people stand and sing. When the Singing Christmas tree started in 1933 it was a first of it’s kind, and today the wood and metal structure can hold over 100 people. Over the years candles have been replaced with LED lights that change colors in various patterns and sequences according to the Christmas carol being sung, which creates a visual spectacle. The tree is set up at the football stadium next door and there are two performances each year. If in the Jackson area on these particular dates (usually during the week after Thanksgiving) I highly recommend checking out the tree.
Rugg Arena at Heidelberg Gymnasium is a very basic, high school-style gym that is small but suits the school quite well. It’s not a bucket list experience that you must visit, but if you are in the area and want to experience a lower-level basketball game then check out a game at Rugg Arena. The Belhaven campus is beautiful campus and is worth checking out.