AUTHOR’S NOTE: Photo gallery at the end.
“Unreal,” Don Bolden said. “This is just . . . unreal.”
I had to agree.
Don, my longtime friend and former boss, was getting his first look inside the massive (160,000 square feet!) Schar Center. He’s a longtime Elon supporter and basketball fan who also spent more than 50 years in newspapers with the Times-News in Burlington. He was one of the two people who hired me there the first time in 1984. The now late but then legendary sports editor Bill Hunter made the final decision. Don, the editor, didn’t tell him he couldn’t. I owe him a lifetime debt of gratitude.
On Tuesday Don with a small group that included his sister-in-law Dolores Truitt, got a special tour from my now Elon colleague John Keegan. John, the assistant athletics director for athletics advancement, has known Don for years. I decided to tag along if they would allow me to do so. Like Don, I was anxious to get a first look at the Schar Center. For more details about the facility go to this website.
And I would say everyone in our group was impressed and then some, including Keegan and he’s watched this facility rise from its inception. For those unaware, Elon’s ambitious new arena and convocation center will be the new home for men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and any number of high-profile events the university can schedule there. It’s the kind of space built to host a speech from a former prime minister of Great Britain like David Cameron or famous tele-scientist and personality Neal deGrasse Tyson. Both are recent convocation speakers who would have benefited from a larger space than Alumni Gym, which seats a little more than 1,600 people (the seventh smallest arena in Division I athletics). The Schar Center will hold more than 5,100.
Construction is nearing an end for the Schar Center with inside touches being addressed now. The seats are all in — and they look pretty comfortable and well spaced with plenty of room for those with disabilities to maneuver. Work is scheduled this week on the basketball floor. On our tour today the springboard, which will support the wooden basketball court, was atop the concrete and ready to be laid down.
It’s almost ready. And when people get their first look, there will be a lot to talk about it — at least after the initial shock wears off. The first reaction is, well, disbelief. “Unreal,” was about the best adjective Don could come up with. I admit to having little to add myself. I could only think of how shocked Bill Hunter, an Elon grad who covered its teams for more than 37 years, would be by the incredible upgrade in athletics facilities at Elon over the past 20 years.
I can’t wait for others to see it.
The first scheduled game in the Schar Center will be a women’s volleyball match on Aug. 28. There will be several volleyball matches there before the facility gets a true test of its size and amenities. On Nov. 6 the University of North Carolina women’s team visits Elon for a contest featuring UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell taking on one of her former star players in Elon coach Charlotte Smith. Three days later the UNC men’s team, ranked No. 9 in preseason polls already, will make a landmark visit to take on the Elon men’s team. One special event is still to be announced that will take place prior to the UNC games. The Schar Center’s first use as a convocation facility will be for the inauguration of Dr. Connie Book as Elon’s president. From there on all things are possible — rock concerts, presidential debates — you name it. It’s that nice of a facility.
Meanwhile on Tuesday Don and Dolores were scoping out what seats they will choose when season tickets are purchased. They are longtime season ticket holders and my guess is more season tickets will be sold this year than ever before. Not only is it the first year in a new arena, but it’s the only guarantee of a ticket to the UNC game on Nov. 9.
The first men’s game will be a sellout. UNC, after all, is the most popular college team in the state and among the most popular in the nation. A lot of people will likely attend who will be coming to Elon’s campus for the first time. I think they will be very surprised to see how much parking is available at the Schar Center, the roominess in the concourse and the open space at the entryway plaza. Plush seats, first-rate concessions, convenience and other amenities are things Keegan and others in athletics hope will bring some people back to Elon for more games. A good team doesn’t hurt either.