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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Williams Assembly Center – Jackson State Tigers

Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.57

Williams Assembly Center S Prentiss St Jackson, MS 39203

Year Opened: 1981

Capacity: 8,000


Tigers on Patrol

Jackson State University opened in 1877 in Natchez as Natchez Seminary. The school was a Baptist affiliated school that was formed to educate newly freed slaves after the Civil War. In 1882 the school was moved 90 miles northeast to downtown Jackson and renamed Jackson College. Just twenty years later the school moved to its present location a few miles southwest. In 1934 the church withdrew funding for the school, and without the support of the church the school was turned over to the State of Mississippi and renamed Jackson State University.

With an enrollment of a little over 7,700 students the college is one of the oldest HBCU schools in the United States, as well as the fourth-oldest college in the state. The Tigers currently field 14 sports (6 men’s, 8 women’s), and compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) for all sports.

The Tigers basketball team currently plays in Williams Assembly Center – the 8,000-seat arena opened in 1981 and is named after former professor Lee E. Williams.

Food & Beverage 2

There is one concessions stand located in the southwest corner of the arena and the usual fare can be found such as nachos ($5), hot dogs ($2), popcorn ($2), peanuts ($2), candy ($1), and chips ($1). There is really nothing on the menu that stands out besides the chicken basket; 6 bucks gets you four tenders that are pretty good, and this item was only added last season.

Pepsi is the soft drink provider with 20 oz cups costing $3 with bottled water and Gatorade costing $2. As usual alcohol is not sold on campus, and the concessions do not accept cards so make sure you have cash ready, as there is no ATM in the facility, but there are several on campus.

Atmosphere 3

The atmosphere in Williams Assembly Center is actually pretty good – I attended a game here earlier in the season and the atmosphere was way better the second time. Having the famous marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South, in attendance only enhances the atmosphere. One thing that SWAC schools are known for is their bands, and at Jackson State it’s no exception. While most college arenas would have a loudspeaker playing music for pregame, the Sonic Boom of the South provides the pregame music by playing hit songs. The band gyrates and dances in unison to the beat of the music, and it really creates a raucous atmosphere.

From the outside Williams Assembly Center looks outdated; it is a rectangular-shaped building that also houses classrooms and athletic department offices. There is one main entrance on the east side with the ticket office located on the southeast side. As soon as you enter the only thing that really stands out is the way the concourses are laid out – instead of having a regular concourse wrapped around underneath the seating bowl, here at Williams Assembly Center it is laid out in 4 sections. The ticket office and main entrance are on the southeast side of the building, while upstairs from the ticket office is the presidential suite as well as a trophy room that houses the JSU Athletics Hall of Fame. This room is technically off limits to fans, but any of the ushers or event staff will be happy to take you up there if you ask.

The small room hosts a ton of trophies that the school has won over the years, the majority of them being football trophies. Walter Payton’s locker is also on display and houses his jersey and helmet from his playing days at JSU. My only gripe would be that maybe the school could bring some of these items down to the other smaller trophy display at the main entrance, so fans could view them as they enter the arena.

On the southwest side of the building are the concessions stands and restrooms, and the Tigers locker rooms are located on this side of the arena as well. The northwest side of Williams Assembly Center is where the athletic department offices and classrooms are located, and on the northeast side is a reception area that sometimes hosts private events for the athletic department.

Another interesting thing about Williams Assembly Center is the seating behind the basket. The arena has regular plastic chair back seats colored red, yellow, and blue which can be seen as you enter the seating bowl from the main level. However, the facility has really low ceilings so the further up in the bleachers you go, the more your view becomes obstructed. The court faces north and south with wooden bleacher-style seats behind the baskets, and these seats are slanted at almost a 45-degree angle that extends far back into the corner of the arena. Because of the way these seats are slanted and with the really low ceilings it creates kind of a dark corner that can be claustrophobic. I’m not sure why the facility was designed this way, but JSU used this to their advantage by having the band occupy the north end of the court, and with the sounds echoing off the walls and low ceilings it is quite a loud and electric atmosphere.

Neighborhood 2

It’s safe to say the area around Jackson State has seen better days – the neighborhood surrounding campus is filled with boarded up buildings and vacant houses. The city of Jackson has consistently been ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the country, however, the city has taken a lot of effort in recent years to try and shake its dangerous reputation. Though you will not find much within walking distance of campus, Jackson is the capital and largest city in Mississippi, so you will find plenty to do in the area.

Incorporated in 1821 Jackson is a very historic city. During the war the city was burned to the ground by Union soldiers not once but twice. One of the buildings that survived the burning is the Old Mississippi State Capitol – this building served as the capital of Mississippi from 1839-1903 and is currently a museum. The old capitol building is the site of many historic moments in Mississippi’s history and has been preserved; it’s now a really neat museum and I recommend checking it out. You can also check out the current Mississippi State Capitol building located nearby.

The city has been trying to revitalize the downtown area in recent years; recently constructed is the Jackson Convention Center and the Russell C. Davis Planetarium & IMAX Theatre. The IMAX Theatre is the state’s first and only theatre of its size, and the Jackson Convention Center was built to accommodate big-time conventions that have now started to come to the area.

For lodging in the downtown area, the city recently built a state-of-the-art high-rise Westin Hotel, as well as renovated the historic King Edward Hotel; this high-rise building sat vacant for a number of years and was an eyesore on the city until recently. There is a Marriott located in downtown as well.

If coming to a game in February be sure to check out the Dixie National Rodeo. Located at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, this two-week event is currently the largest rodeo east of the Mississippi River. In addition, this event is a cultural and social gathering filled with concerts that attract some of the top performers in the country.

Besides the hotels and capitol buildings, there are also numerous bars in the downtown area. Hal and Mal’s, Fenians, and Old Tavern on George Street are some of the best, while Underground 119 is a cool underground blues bar located in the same area.

Just a short drive north of downtown will take you to the Fondren District – located near the Ole Miss Med School – this is Jackson’s nightlife area, and you’ll 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.

Lakeland Drive is located east of I-55, and you can find all the usual chain restaurants and lodging in that area. There are also two malls located at Dogwood Place on Lakeland, as well as The Outlets of Mississippi located south of Lakeland Drive in Pearl next to Trustmark Park, home of the Mississippi Braves.

For attractions in the area I recommend checking out the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. It’s 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.

Fans 3

Because the most recent game I attended was a conference game, fans were more engaged than during games at the beginning of the season – that and the fact that the Sonic Boom of the South were in attendance had fans more engaged than usual. With only 3 tournament appearances in their history (1997, 2000, & 2007) Tigers fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about in recent years, as the team has been exceptionally bad. But Jackson State’s athletic budget currently ranks 337 out of 347 Division I teams, so there are some issues that are beyond the team’s control, but the fans that do turn out seem knowledgeable and are passionate about the university. I also enjoyed talking to some of the ushers and event staff about the history of JSU sports, dating back to the glory days of Walter Payton.

Access 2

If coming from the north, south, or east you will be driving through downtown. With its one-way and dead-end streets, driving around the downtown area can be really confusing, not to mention that Jackson is notorious for its bad roads, so you will constantly have to dodge pot holes. Your best bet would be to take I-55 to the Pearl Street exit, as Pearl Street takes you right into campus – once you get to Williams Assembly Center there is plenty of parking available in the lots surrounding the facility.

In the 1990s the university won a $200 million lawsuit against the state of Mississippi to improve the infrastructure on campus. Though the area around campus still leaves much to be desired, the results of the lawsuit led to many beautiful new buildings being constructed at JSU. Once on campus, Williams Assembly Center isn’t too difficult to find – you just go through three roundabouts on Pearl Street with the arena located directly south of the third roundabout. Avoid taking the route from Highway 80 to University/Terry Blvd, as this path will take you through a high-crime area.

Return on Investment 3

Tickets are $10 for general admission seating and you get to sit anywhere in the arena. I think the ticket prices are kind of high for a lower level matchup, but there is no cost to park and concessions prices are pretty reasonable, but all in all I’d recommend getting something to eat before arriving at the arena.

Extras 3

One extra for the Sonic Boom of the South – this is the premier college band in all of D1 athletics and has to be seen to be believed. I’ve never been to a college basketball game before where the band has come down to the court to perform during halftime, but at JSU that is what happens for every conference game.

I always like it when basketball gyms utilize the parquet checkerboard floor on their court – Jackson State is one of the few teams I’ve seen that use this style of floor, so the court definitely has a Boston Garden feel to it.

Another extra for the JSU Athletics Hall of Fame and trophies set up upstairs in the presidential suite. Though this area is off limits to regular fans, I give a shout-out to JSU Sports Information Director Dennis Driscoll and his staff for allowing me access to this great area of the venue. It was cool the see the original jersey of quite possibly the greatest running back in NFL history, and the greatest athlete to come out of JSU, Walter Payton.

Final Thoughts

The Jackson State Athletic Department has suffered in recent years – there just isn’t a high enough budget to properly support JSU’s sports programs. The talk of a domed stadium to house the football and basketball teams has died down for now, so the Tigers are forced to play in what they have. The Williams Assembly Center is definitely starting to show its age, but it is a fine venue for the Tigers basketball program for now.

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