- Dave Cottenie
WLU Athletic Complex - Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
WLU Athletic Complex 75 University Ave W Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5
Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks basketball website
Year Opened: 1973
Wilfrid Laurier University is normally viewed as a football school in USports and the OUA. However, the Golden Hawks can trace their basketball history quite deeply and boast some national accolades as well. The Hawks basketball squad was established in 1961 and have led a roller coaster existence on the court over the past six decades. The Golden Hawks were quite strong in the sixties and seventies which coincided with seven provincial conference championships in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1971. These were all earned when the Hawks were members of the OUA’s predecessor the OIAA. Basketball glory culminated for the Golden Hawks in 1968 with Laurier earning the W.P. McGee Trophy as Canadian National Champions. All basketball championships were won before Laurier changed its name from Waterloo Lutheran University. Lean times were found on the court throughout the eighties and nineties and a bit of a renaissance was found with the Hawks in the new millennium. However, with the Carleton Ravens dominating OUA and USports basketball in the last twenty years, there has not been much hardware for the Hawks, let alone the rest of the OUA.
Wilfrid Laurier University was established in 1911 as a Lutheran Seminary and would morph into a full-fledged university as Laurier in 1973. The final name change which would coincide with Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, who had no local connections, would be filled with controversy and panned as just an easy way to keep the WLU initials, which belonged to Waterloo Lutheran University. This public university features over 15,000 students with the main campus located in Waterloo, Ontario on a small campus in an urban area. Waterloo features a population of over 121,000 and is a twin-city with neighbouring Kitchener.
Not close to the same scale as basketball schools in the NCAA, the Golden Hawks put together a simple, entertaining product in a decent facility for a great price. In the end, is there anything else that a paying customer can ask for?
Food & Beverage 2
Concession options at the Athletic Complex are very limited. The Hawk Shop on the north side of the gym offers soda and water, hot dogs, popcorn, chips, chocolate bars and sometimes pizza. It is clear that the Hawk Shop is being reimagined and fairly unfinished in the post-Covid era. What that looks like going forward and how it affects concession options remains a bit of a mystery.
As with many OUA basketball venues, the Athletic Complex serves the greater university and is not just an arena for basketball on gameday. Located on the edge of campus, right at the corner of King Street and University Ave, the exterior of the Athletic Complex has been renovated numerous times. When entering through the main entrance, which is on the opposite side of the building from King Street, fans are greeted with plenty of glass and an attractive view of the fairly pedestrian building. The student fitness facilities can be seen from the outside.
Entering the Athletic Complex has fans greeted by the main ticketing desk which doubles as the recreation help desk. There is a huge collage above the desk featuring pictures of great moments in Golden Hawks athletics including their Vanier Cup wins in football and National Championship in Women’s hockey. Past the entryway and around the corner and up a couple of stairs is the main entry to the gym. Just outside of that is the former Hawk Shop which serves as concession and used to have team merchandise. A large trophy case is across from the entrance and kitty corner is the Hawk Lounge, which houses the Laurier Athletics Hall of Fame. The gym is fairly simple with two entries on the east and west sides of the court. The court runs from north to south and the perfect spot for that centre court logo photo is in the west bleachers. The gym is used for more than just basketball games and the seating is two sets of retractable plastic bleachers and folding chairs. There is nothing overly exciting about the interior of the gym. Championship banners for all sports used to hang on the south side of the gym, but those have been removed as a part of some renovation. A large team photo of the 1968 National Championship basketball team was temporarily in the Hawk Shop, but it is unclear where that went. Although there is plenty of purple and gold in the gym, there is plenty that could be done to bump up the atmosphere at the AC.
The gameday production of a Laurier Golden Hawks game is fairly simple. Pregame warmups are dominated with rap music no doubt chosen by the players. Once the game begins there are a few student run promotions and simple halftime games like the beanbag toss.
Wilfrid Laurier is an urban university located just up the street from another urban university. As a result there are a ton of great options for pre and post game meals. University and King streets are where fans would find most options. There are a ton of great spots to get something to eat before or after the game. Some places worth considering include Pin Up Arcade Bar, Philthy Philly’s, Williams Fresh Cafe and Smoke’s Poutinerie. The on-campus pub is Wilf’s and offers a great atmosphere and food while being student run and managed. The place fans probably should settle on, however, is Morty’s Pub. Home of arguably the best chicken wings in the city, Morty’s always satisfies the post game craving.
As far as entertainment goes, there are a few options in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. When planning on catching a Laurier game around Canadian Thanksgiving, there is the possibility of catching Oktoberfest. This is the signature festival of Kitchener-Waterloo and the largest Bavarian festival outside of Germany. There are a number of great events that take place over the 10 day festival at a variety of locations including the numerous Fest Halls. Head south on King Street toward Uptown Waterloo to find a great spot for some evening entertainment in the Huether Hotel Jazz Room. One of the top jazz venues in the province, The Jazz Room offers weekend performances at a great price. There are also a number of pubs in Uptown Waterloo that feature live music. If interested in enhancing the sporting weekend then there are also a few other options. Wilfrid Laurier also fields other athletic teams, specifically football at Knight-Newbrough Field and hockey at the Sun Life Financial Arena. Just up the road, the University of Waterloo also fields USports athletic programs. Football is found at Warrior Field, basketball at the Physical Activities Complex and hockey at the Columbia IceField. Driving across town to Kitchener brings the opportunity to catch the phenomenal experience of the Kitchener Rangers at the legendary Aud.
For fans planning on staying the night, the Inn of Waterloo or the Delta are short drives from the Laurier campus.
Evaluating fans in the OUA is very challenging. All games are doubleheaders with the women’s team and attendance figures are not published. The Golden Hawks usually top out at a couple hundred fans. Big games against Western or the rival down the street, Waterloo, will provide a better fan atmosphere. When members of the football team are in attendance there is always a bigger buzz in the building. Periodically a group of students will sit behind the visitors bench and cause a ruckus, however the fans in attendance are not over the top or obnoxious. Like most other Canadian universities, connecting current students with athletics remains a big challenge and more students in attendance would go a long way to making Laurier basketball a better experience.
Getting to the Athletic Complex and around is not very difficult. The Athletic Complex is located right on the corner of University and King. Normally, the entry for parking would be at the main entrance at University and Hazel. However, due to construction in 2023, fans will have to enter campus off of King Street for parking near the AC. Fans coming from out of town, will have a decent drive through the city as the university campus is a fair trek southwest of Highway 85. Traffic on University Ave moves fairly quickly, so getting to the gym should not be too much of an issue. Parking is available in the main lot on the other side of Alumni Field, by the Science Building. Parking is free, but fans should be conscious of parking in a permit spot during the wrong time. For fans wishing to take public transit to the game, the ION Light Rail stops at Waterloo Park and Seagram Drive, a short walk to the AC. Otherwise, there are buses that travel along King Street and University Ave. Fans should check the Grand River Transit website for maps and schedules. Ticketing is located at the main entry of the Athletic Complex at the fitness desk. Credit and debit cards are accepted for those not pre-purchasing tickets.
Finding a spot in the general admission grandstands is not too difficult. However, washroom facilities and access to the northwest grandstand requires fans to go around the Hawk Shop and down the breezeway, alongside the pool to the other side.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets for Laurier Golden Hawks basketball are $9.50 when purchased in advance. There are discounts for alumni, students, seniors, children, faculty and staff. In most cases there is a $2 surcharge when purchasing at the ticket desk right before the game. Parking can be found for free and concession prices are good. OUA basketball is very underrated and the product on the court will surprise sports fans. Being able to get to a game for under $10 is nearly impossible now. The investment is small and the return is strong so the value is excellent.
An extra mark for Wilfrid Laurier University and their simple, traditional approach to presenting basketball.
An extra mark for the unique Golden Hawk mascot, which has an interesting history.
The experience of Laurier Golden Hawks basketball may not blow fans away like a professional or big-time NCAA game would. However, a Laurier basketball game is a nice afternoon or evening’s entertainment and for the price that fans are expected to shell out, there isn’t too much more that fans can ask for. A few more people in the stands would make the Laurier basketball experience even better.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.