Halton Arena, located roughly in the middle of campus at UNC Charlotte, has housed basketball games (as well as other sports and activities) since 1996. Named for a former Pepsi president and CEO, the arena has a capacity of 9,105.
Before getting into the specifics about what makes Halton Arena so special, it’s important to know about the old Belk Gym—aka the “Mine Shaft.”
Before the opening of the Belk Gym in 1970, Charlotte was a member of the NAIA and played home games in high school gyms spread throughout Mecklenburg County. From 1970-76, this was the home of the 49ers.
How effective was it? Charlotte went undefeated at home from 1974-76. Enough said.
The building remains open and active, housing the Kinesiology department and holding classes in subjects ranging from Foreign Language to First Aid. The lobby contains a large trophy case, holding conference championship plaques, trophies, and most prized of all, Charlotte’s 1977 Final Four net and trophy.
Having spent 20 years playing home games off campus at the old Charlotte Coliseum (known to some as Cricket Arena and, most recently, Bojangles Coliseum), the 49ers moved back on campus with the opening of Halton Arena in 1996.
Halton Arena is located inside the Student Activity Center, known by students as the SAC. The SAC houses athletic offices, the campus gym (as in weight room, aerobics, etc.), a full-size arcade with pool tables, and until the opening of the new Student Union last semester, several places to eat.
Food available during the game is pretty much standard. Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas are usually available, as are standards such as hot dogs, chicken fingers, hamburgers, popcorn, etc. Prices are slightly inflated, but then again, what sporting events don’t overcharge for food?
According to UNCC graduate student Ben Bowers, before home games, alumni get their pre-game drinks and food at Picasso’s Sports Bar, located about a block from campus on WT Harris Blvd. Students, having generally less money to spend, frequent Bojangles before games, which is only a few feet down the road from Picasso’s.
As with nearly all schools, students often camp out overnight to get the best seats as they become available. However, this tradition may be outdating itself, as students can reserve their tickets online as well as print them from their dorm computers.
Halton Arena itself is state of the art. A new high-definition scoreboard was donated by RBC Centura in 2006, and two years later, the school bought LCD screens used at the 2008 Final Four and installed them for arena use.
Alongside the NCAA Tournament banners in the rafters is a banner for each fellow member of the Atlantic-10 conference. Retired jerseys are also mounted high on the northwest wall of the arena.
During the games, it’s tradition for the alumni and student sections to chant back and forth “forty” and “niners” to each other. Since the officiating is historically and notoriously bad (referees frequently miss traveling calls and players stepping out of bounds underneath the basket with possession), boos and insults come raining down from the student section.
I myself am guilty of being tough on referees. When the crowd is that into the game, it’s hard not to make some noise and get rowdy. Typically, you’ll hear everything from “get those zebras off the court” to “go back to your job at Foot Locker.” Sometimes you’ll hear more intense language, but none of that is printable here.
Towards the end of the game, if Charlotte is so far in the lead that the opponents’ fans are leaving the arena, Niner Nation breaks out the old standard “Na Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye” and adds “you suck” after the “hey” in “Rock and Roll Part 2.”
After the game, fans pile around the barriers to congratulate the 49ers teams on their performance as well as traditional handshakes and high fives. In addition, many people go back to Picasso’s (and other local bars such as Bad Dog’s, Boardwalk Billy’s, Stool Pigeons, and Flying Saucer) to have a few drinks and socialize with other fans.
There’s plenty of entertainment in addition to the game itself. During timeouts, cheerleaders and mascot Norm the Niner often launch t-shirts and beer koozies into the stands, and the school dance team, known as the Gold Dusters, has won several awards and frequently appears at national competitions.
Halftime entertainment is a lot of fun. I’ve seen everything from local peewee basketball championships to mascot races. You don’t want to leave your seat or you’ll miss something fun and original.
Most importantly, games are extremely affordable. Tickets are free for students (with proof of student ID), and Charlotte49ers.com always offers some kind of deal to make UNCC Basketball games an affordable family activity. The best seats in the house for Feb. 3’s game against George Washington are only $25.
Season tickets range as low as $49. That isn’t a typo. For just under 50 dollars, you can get season tickets in the second tier of seating for every home game in a season. Even the most expensive package (season tickets on the courtside level) is just under $300, making Charlotte basketball a great affordable option for fans of Naismith’s game.
So what do the fans think?
To quote recent UNCC graduate Lauren Rickert, “I love the feeling of being in the arena when the team is on a roll and the fans are going crazy as the opposing team calls a timeout to try to stop our run.” Rickert has also noticed a large increase in attendance in the last two years.
Home-court advantage is nearly unbeatable. If you don’t believe me, look at what the 49ers did Wednesday night to the 15th-ranked Temple Owls. It’s safe to say at 15-5 and 5-1 in conference, Charlotte has finally adjusted to the challenges of the A-10 conference and will thrive just as they did in Conference USA.
Even with the school adding a football team (set to begin in 2013), the heart of Charlotte athletics will always be college basketball.