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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Swisher Gymnasium – Jacksonville Dolphins

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00

Swisher Gymnasium 100 Dolphin Drive Jacksonville, FL 32211

Year Opened: 1953

Capacity: 1,452


Phins Up!

There are few moments in sports more surprising than the 1970 Final Four appearance by the Jacksonville Dolphins. Led by future NBA star and Basketball Hall of Fame member Artis Gilmore, the Dolphins moved through the tournament defeating Western Kentucky, Iowa and Kentucky to make it to the Final Four. The Cinderella Dolphins made it one step farther defeating the St. Bonaventure Bonnies to make it to the National Championship game. John Wooden’s juggernaut UCLA Bruins would dash the hopes of the upstart Dolphins, but a miracle run was ingrained in the Jacksonville fanbase. The 1969-70 Dolphins also etched themselves in College Basketball history as the first team to average 100 points in a season.

Currently, Jacksonville is a small, private university of just over 4,000 students. The Dolphins have been playing basketball since 1949. After playing as an independent and conferences that no longer exist, Jacksonville moved to the Sun Belt Conference in 1976. They currently play in the Atlantic Sun Conference, their home since 1998. The Dolphins call the Historic Swisher Gymnasium their on-campus home and have played there since 1953. They played in the Jacksonville Coliseum from 1969 to 1999, until it was demolished in favor of the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, where the Dolphins played from 2003 to 2015. They then returned to campus to the renovated gym. Named after Carl Swisher, the father of Jacksonville University, former chairman of the Board of Trustees and the man instrumental in finding the university a permanent home, the Historic Swisher Gymnasium is a small, intimate venue with a capacity of just over 1,452. The court is named after Billie Nimnicht, a local car dealership owner and big supporter of Jacksonville athletics during his life. One of the smaller schools playing in one of the smallest venues offers an entire different experience than one may associate with NCAA Basketball, but it is one not to be missed, for sure.

Food & Beverage 2

The culinary experience at a Dolphins game is not the most extravagant. A simple menu at the one concession stand in the atrium includes hot dogs, popcorn, chips and candy. Beverages include soda, water and Gatorade. Beer and wine is also available, which is not necessarily the norm for a college basketball venue on campus. Although there is little variety and not much more than a snack available, the prices are very reasonable.

Atmosphere 3

Definitely not an imposing structure, the Historic Swisher Gymnasium is neatly embedded in the centre of campus at Jacksonville University, steps away from the St. Johns River. A small, arched structure with windows along the curved roofline of the original gymnasium, there is a clear division between where the original gym stands and the additions to it with the latest renovation.

Entering Swisher brings fans into the pride of the Dolphins. The atrium outside of the main gym is full of displays and memorabilia of the glory years at JU. A huge display telling the story of the 1969-1970 Dolphins and their run to the National Championship game along with their favorite son, Artis Gilmore, will give fans the opportunity to step into an area of JU athletics they are probably not familiar with. Trophies for the national runner-up are also photo ops for fans. Very smartly decorated, the atrium leads to the main concession stand which also sells some Dolphins gear. To the right is the entrance to the gymnasium, which is flanked by the original dedication plaque from 1953, information on the latest renovation and a curious sign above the entrance welcoming fans to the Artis Gilmore Court.

Inside the seating area, it is obvious that Swisher could be a really tough place to play as an opponent. The court runs from east to west and fans enter from the east side with the majority of seating on the north side. The south side of the gym is the Swisher Splash Zone, which is presumably the student section. A very small capacity shows fans that if the gym was full, it could be amazing. The north and south walls hold simple videoboards, which basically only show the score and video of the game. More advanced statistics of the game including player points and fouls, are not shown on the board. To the upper left of the videoboard on the west wall, proudly hang the retired numbers for the Dolphins. The likes of Roger Strickland, Rex Morgan, Artis Gilmore, Otis Smith and Dee Brown. Hanging above the south stands are the Jacksonville Dolphins championship banners, which include 1970, 71, 73, 79 and 86 NCAA Tournament appearances, 2009 and 2010 Atlantic Sun Championships, 1979 and 1986 Sun Belt Tournament Championships, NIT and CIT appearances and the 1970 NCAA Final Four banner.

The production at a Dolphins game is very simple. Some music between and fairly simple introductions and promotions highlight the game experience. During free-throws, fans are encouraged to put their Phins Up, and enthusiastically raise their hands and shake them, hoping for a good foul shot. It must be noted, that the specific game that was reviewed was during the winter break, when the campus was fairly empty so the gameday production may be a bit different during a normal game.

Neighborhood 3

The Jacksonville University campus is located east of the St. Johns River and adjacent to the Lake Lucina, Monterey, University Park and Arlington Manor neighborhoods of Jacksonville. There are a few spots that are not too far for pre or post game meals. The River House Pub is right on campus and probably the one spot within walking distance. Smoke in the City BBQ, and Louisiana Fish and Chicken are also close. There are a number of fast food restaurants on Merrill Road, which is close to campus.

For other sporting options, the Jacksonville Jaguars play at TIAA Bank Field and the Jacksonville IceMen play at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. The Alexander Brest Museum and Jacksonville Zoo are other tourist type options worth checking out. Also, catching the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl during the football playoffs is a great holiday plan.

For fans needing to stay in the area, Kings Inn and Regency Inn are decent selections.

Fans 2

The Jacksonville Dolphins usually average less than 1,000 fans per game. This makes for one of the lowest average attendances in Division I basketball. That being said, 1,000 fans in Swisher would be terrific with such a small capacity. That being said, it was low attendance that pushed Jacksonville U to move their home games back to campus and leave the bigger, downtown Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. It will be interesting to see if demand for basketball will force either a move back downtown or an expansion of Swisher.

Access 3

Jacksonville University is located east of the St. Johns River and east of downtown. It is west of I-295 and north of the Arlington Expressway. Getting to the university is not terribly difficult. For fans heading on campus for the first time, parking can be a bit of a chore. It is best to arrive early and scope out parking. There are some lots at the end of Dolphin Drive that most would not get to. For fans interested in public transit, there are buses that run along University Boulevard. Fans should check out the Jacksonville Transportation Authority website for fares, maps and schedules.

The ticketing window at Swisher is actually outside the building. Getting tickets is not difficult and lines are rarely an issue. Inside, the low attendance means that getting around the gym is not that difficult. However, a full house would make the atrium pretty crowded. The washroom facilities are adequate for the facility as well.

Return on Investment 5

Taking in a Jacksonville Dolphins game is one of the most affordable endeavours in sport. A Dolphins ticket is only $10 for General Admission, which all of the seats are, outside of those specifically reserved for season ticket holders. Concession prices are quite good and getting to the game is not costly. Although, not the most complex production, the Dolphins remain Division I basketball and it is a program that has some pedigree to its name. The experience is well worth the tiny investment.

Extras 3

An extra mark for the Dolphins city rivalry with the North Florida Ospreys. Florida Gulf Coast is also a decent rivalry.

An extra mark for the return to campus for the Dolphins

An extra mark for the history of Historic Swisher Gymnasium

Final Thoughts

Not all college basketball schools are Duke, Kansas or North Carolina. With over 350 Division I programs there is a wide variety of experiences for the sports traveler. Although the Jacksonville Dolphins are one of the smallest programs in the country, the experience at the Historic Swisher Gymnasium should not be discounted. Heading on campus will mean a good time at a price that is far lower than any big program.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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