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  • Gordon Sheldall

Student Recreation Center – UC Riverside Highlanders

Photo by Gordon Sheldall, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00

Student Recreation Center 900 University Ave Riverside, CA 92521

Year Opened: 1994

Capacity: 3,168


Big West in the Inland Empire

The city of Riverside is located 60 miles east of Los Angeles but even native Angelenos can forget how big and important an area it is. Riverside is the 12th largest city by population in California and has had tremendous impact on the state’s citrus industry.

UC Riverside had its beginning in 1907 as an agricultural research station and opened for classes for the first time in 1954, explaining the number 54 on their mascot’s uniform.

The UC Riverside Highlanders basketball team plays in the Big West Conference. The men’s team has never won a championship, unlike the UCR ladies, who have won three titles to date. Despite this, they regularly field competitive athletic teams and provide an entertaining diversion for the students and citizens of their community.

Food & Beverage 2

There are no concessions inside the basketball gym where the Highlanders play so the only option is the Highlander food truck parked just outside the venue. You must get your hand stamped by Security so you can re-enter but you are allowed to bring your food and beverage inside the gym.

They offer cheeseburger sliders, BBQ pulled pork sliders and BBQ shredded chicken sliders (2 for $4.39 and 4 for $7.99), a hot dog ($3.59), chili cheese dog ($4.59), pretzel ($3.79), nachos ($3.99) and a third-pound cheeseburger for $5.99. The quality and value are good. A great choice, whether you’re a vegetarian or not, is the tasty Black Bean burger ($4.99) which is served Memphis-style with coleslaw and sweet BBQ sauce on it. Snacks include candy, Cracker Jacks, chips and popcorn. Soda, water and Gatorade are the only drinks on the menu. No alcohol is available.

Be forewarned – Because there are no other options, the line is long and takes considerable time. If you want to want to grab some grub at halftime, you should duck outside a couple of minutes before the half ends, else, you’ll get stuck in the queue and may even miss the start of the third period.

Atmosphere 3

The school band adds a great deal to the atmosphere, playing fan favorites. There are so many cheerleaders I lose count; they are active in bringing the players on before the game, dancing, leading cheers and making the handstands and towers look easy.

The scoreboard is top notch and there is a guest table on entry where you can pick up some cool free stuff (posters, schedules, etc.). The game program with rosters and the current Big West standings is free. “Scotty,” the university’s mascot, sports a Tam o’ Shanter and actively roams the stands to interact with fans.

Neighborhood 3

Box Springs Mountain Park is located just to the east of the UC Riverside campus. There are walking trails among the natural beauty. There is also a botanic garden on the UCR campus.

Otherwise, the neighborhood is the college campus, student housing and businesses that cater to the UCR students. The Getaway Cafe (directly across from parking lot #24 is a sports bar popular with the university’s students. If you don’t want to hang out there, the Sub Station is a well-reviewed sandwich shop near the Getaway Cafe.

Fans 3

The attendance at the game I attended was neither paltry nor huge. Fans were seated in the stands on both sides of the court and seemed knowledgeable as well as loyal to the home team. It looked as though there was a good mix of students (especially athletes from other school teams), parents and alumni. They rooted their Highlanders on but shrugged off a close loss when it was over.

Access 3

The campus is off CA Interstate 215 making the recreation center easy to find if you go in the daytime and do not make any wrong turns; otherwise, it can get tricky.

Signage on the campus is poor. I advise printing out a campus map and bringing it with you in case you get lost. Use “UCR Student Recreation Center” on Google Maps to navigate but keep in mind that the parking lot is around the corner.

Exit the 215 freeway at University Ave. and head east toward the mountains. The road curves to the left whereupon it becomes Canyon Crest Drive. Parking lot #24 will be on your right and the attendant will be there to collect your $10. You should feel safe leaving your car there as this lot is directly adjacent to the UCR Police Department. Be advised it is a bit of a hike from the lot, North past the Police Department, turn right at the corner of W. Linden St., pass the track and the Student Recreation Center will be on your right.

Return on Investment 3

Ticket prices are $12 for an assigned seat but $10 for seniors, youth and military with ID. You can save another $2 by getting your tickets in advance online. There is a Guest Services table with schedules, posters and a free game program. Factor in $10 for parking and you can see a game here for under $20 which is a reasonable value.

Extras 4

One extra star is credited for the fine band and another for the numerous cheerleaders to fire up the crowd’s school spirit. A third star is awarded for the nice scoreboard with big screen, though it would be enhanced if they used it to show replays and highlights. Currently, it just shows the live action and the occasional “fan cam.” Lastly, a friendly and helpful staff is a big plus.

Final Thoughts

If you are in the Riverside area and get a hankering to watch some college b-ball action, or if your favorite team is playing the Highlanders, then this venue may just fit your bill. The fans and staff are helpful and friendly. The campus is out-of-the-way from the usual SoCal tourist traps, but this may be the secret to its appeal for many visitors.

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