William Nicks Building – Prairie View A&M Panthers
Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
William Nicks Center T.R. Soloman at O.J. Thomas Street Prairie View, TX 77446
Year Opened: 2009
Panther Pride Alive in Prairie View
Located just over an hour northwest of Houston is the city of Prairie View, and the campus of Prairie View A&M University – the school was opened in 1876, and has been putting athletics teams on the field and on the court for nearly 100 years. The Panthers basketball program has called William Nicks Building (named for the school’s legendary head football coach) home since the early 1960s.
Over the years, the Prairie View A&M basketball program has experienced a great deal of success – the Panthers were conference champions in 1962, 1963, 1998 (earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament), and 2013, and former Panthers center Zelmo “Big Z” Beatty was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 as well.
The “Baby Dome”, as William Nicks Building is called on campus, is one of the most raucous playing environments in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), and continually is one of the best small-school venues in college basketball.
Food & Beverage 3
The food selection at Williams Nicks Building is pretty standard for college athletics, with one notable exception, that being boudin balls – the tasty Cajun sausages can be purchased for $5 per order. That being said, the concessions prices are a little on the steep side; hot dogs are $5, nachos $7, popcorn $4, and soda and beer $5 apiece. There is also a BBQ sandwich ($5) on the menu that many in the crowd seem to enjoy, and chips, candy, sports drinks, and bottled water are also on the menu.
There are two concessions areas in the main concourse level of the Baby Dome. At the stand near the main entrance there is a Bahama Buck’s offering a pared down menu, with large and small sizes at $6 and $7 each. Despite the cost, there is enough of a selection at William Nicks Building for fans to find what they need.
The atmosphere at William Nicks Building is personally one of the best I have ever experienced.
This may have been due to playing a rivalry game on my last visit, as it was nearly a sellout crowd (the Panthers averaged just under 800 fans per game last season). Regardless, the atmosphere was electric – on the sidelines, a DJ mixes songs during timeouts and fan contests.
The student section at William Nicks Building, especially the fraternities and sororities, dance with every song the band – the Marching Storm – plays, and the acoustics of the dome amplify the sound exponentially. If you attend a game I think you’ll be blown away.
As mentioned, Prairie View is just a little over an hour away from the Houston metroplex area, and Prairie View city proper is the epitome of a college town. The campus is the metaphorical heart and soul of the community, and much of the entertainment that can be found has to do with Prairie View A&M.
Beyond that, there are some attractions in the communities surrounding Prairie View – the Texas Oil Ranch in nearby Hockley is a prime example of such an attraction. This working ranch was also home to a gusher in the previous century, and visitors can get a glimpse of a bygone era when they visit. Hockley is also home to the Lone Star Pinball Museum, which is exactly what it sounds like – a shrine to the shiny silver balls that have enthralled players for years. This museum is a great attraction if you’re looking for some quick fun before Panthers games.
For food, Waller County Line BBQ has become a staple in the area; known for its sausage, brisket, and ribs, it is as close to a true Texas barbecue joint as you will find in the area. But if you’re looking for something a little more traditional (though this being Texas, barbecue is really as traditional as it gets), Bistro 1876 is located right on the campus of Prairie View A&M, and offers traditional American comfort food.
When it comes to hotels, your options near campus are pretty limited. Both America’s Best Value Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express have locations nearby, but if you are looking for other options, you might have to venture out farther away from Prairie View.
The crowd at William Nicks Building is really tremendous and was the highlight of my visit to Prairie View – they were loud, engaged, and active for the entire game. The student sections in particular was boisterous, and really enhanced the game experience.
In the stands, the fans are decked out in the purple and white of the home team. Even though Prairie View A&M is not what you think of as a traditional basketball powerhouse program, it is clear the passion for the team and the student athletes is there. You also see a lot of alumni for home games, which gives a great generational feel to the crowd.
Prairie View is easily accessible by driving from either Houston or San Antonio, the two biggest cities nearby. Once on campus though, there is very little signage directing you to William Nicks Building – a hint; look for Panther Stadium, where the football team plays, and head for that.
Parking is also not plentiful for Prairie View A&M basketball games – while it is free, most of the spots close to the basketball gym fill up fast. The adjacent lot is near the physical fitness center and student center, but also tends to fill up pretty quickly – lack of parking is the sole reason for the low score in this category.
There are other parking areas on Prairie View A&M’s campus that are free for spectators, but they are not nearly as close to the arena. On the plus side, it is a beautiful campus, so if you have to walk you can at least enjoy the scenery.
Return on Investment 2
General admission tickets for Panthers games are a little on the high side – each ticket will cost you $20 per person (and it is cash only at the box office, but there is an ATM nearby). This is a little pricey in my opinion, and when you couple the concessions costs (also cash only, by the way) with the ticket fees, this could turn into a high-dollar evening for games at William Nicks Building.
You surprisingly get a lot of extras during Prairie View A&M basketball games. For my money, the basketball version of the Marching Storm is an experience you should not miss – their sound is incredible and (again) is magnificently amplified by the acoustics of the arena’s construction. There are times when the band ramps up the atmosphere to such an extent that you will not even be able to speak to the person you are sitting next to!
The Panther cheerleaders and the dance team, the Panther Dolls, are also part of the overall experience; they dance during intermissions and cheer throughout the game. The team’s mascots – Pete and Vickie, respectively – patrol the stands and interact with fans the entire game. For younger fans, this will be an especially great treat.
Going into this visit, I had no preconceived expectations of what it might be like. However, I was truthfully blown away by the incredible energy at William Nicks Building. While I have never been to any of the major palaces of college hoops, I have been to a quite a few games, and this arena was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I don’t think my words can fully do it justice – it is something you should see for yourself if you’re a fan of college basketball.
One final caveat; William Nicks Building is scheduled to undergo some renovations and remodeling during the spring of 2018, so you might want to plan your visit for after that. Either way, add Prairie View A&M’s William Nicks Building to your bucket list of college basketball arenas!