Arlin R. Horton Sports Center – Pensacola Christian College Eagles
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.57
Arlin R. Horton Sports Center
5307 Rawson Ln Pensacola, FL 32503
Year Opened: 1993
Welcome to the Eagle’s Nest
Pensacola Christian College was founded by Beka and Arlin R. Horton and opened its doors in 1974, with 100 students and based in a single building. The Hortons also opened a grade school in 1954 that is now named Pensacola Christian Academy, which is affiliated with the college and is located right next door. Since opening, PCC has been met with a lot of controversy regarding its accreditation and some of the college’s rules, and has been nicknamed one of the strictest colleges in the country. Today the college has grown to include about 5,000 students and over 20 buildings.
The Eagles officially began fielding an athletic program in 1993, of which they compete in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) in Division II. PCC fields 3 sports – men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. The Eagles have not had much success on the basketball court; since first fielding a team in 1993 the Eagles have only made 2 NCCAA regional appearances in 2014 and 2016. However, the Eagles soccer team won 2017 NCCAA National Championship, and PCC’s wrestling team won four National Championships in the mid-1990s before NCCAA discontinued the sport.
Food & Beverage 1
There is one main concessions stand located on the concourse to the right as soon as you enter. The concessions options are extremely limited with chips, popcorn, nachos, candy, and hot dogs being the only items on the menu. Bottled Coke products are the soft drink of choice for $2 each. Concessions prices are about average with what you would expect, but I would recommend getting something to eat at one of Pensacola’s many area restaurants.
Arlin R. Horton Sports Center is perhaps one of the finest venues in NCCAA; the 3,100-seat, 216,000-square-foot venue opened in 1993 and houses the school’s athletic departments and classrooms, as well as the school’s recreation facilities. The octagon-shaped brick building sits at the front of campus as soon as you come through the main gate.
The first thing you notice is just how huge the building is for this level of college basketball, and the structure from the outside can resemble a D1 basketball venue. In addition, outside the venue sits a pretty big fountain which lights up at night, that greets you as you enter; from the fountain you go up about 20 stairs to get to the ticket office, which is located at the main entrance on the west side. As soon as you enter the arena you are greeted by a wide and spacious, carpeted concourse that wraps around the entire building. Walking around the concourse there are a multitude of different banners and photos of past Eagle teams, and though the PCC basketball program is usually exceptionally bad, you can definitely tell that at PCC they are still proud of their athletic programs, and honor past players and teams.
The court faces north and south, and there are portable bleachers on the east and west sides, with an upper level complete with a walking track, and seats behind the track that wrap around the entire building. The venue is so clean it’s virtually spotless, and I did not see any operations staff walking around, so the fact that the venue is that clean is definitely a plus. There are four entrances into the arena, and you enter at court level, then walk up some stairs to get to the walking track/upper level seating.
Because of the program’s status there is no music played during events here, except for an orchestra-like theme that plays before the game. But the staff more than makes up for it with the many promotional contests and the games themselves – every time an Eagles player hits a three-pointer they shoot t-shirts into the crowd, and during timeouts they have trivia contests and play games where fans can win prizes. During halftime they let fans come onto the court and shoot basketballs, including a 3-point contest and a half-court contest. For a school known for its strict rules it is nice to see this level of fan engagement and interaction.
Pensacola Christian College is located off a busy highway (Brent Road), under an interstate overpass in the Car City neighborhood of Pensacola. There is nothing within walking distance except about 20 car dealerships, but about a block away one can find Buffalo Wild Wings, Sky Pizza, and Outback Steakhouse, or half a mile east on Brent Road will take you to Cordova Mall, which is the largest indoor shopping center in western Florida, and has all the typical mall stores you could think of. In addition, in the parking lot you can find Chick-fil-A, Newk’s, Red Robin, Zoe’s Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Chili’s, Steak ‘n Shake, Moe’s, etc. A restaurant I recommend outside Cordova Mall is BJ’s Brewhouse, which is kind of expensive but has over 60 beers on tap and even brews its own beer.
To experience Pensacola at its best, I recommend hopping on the I-110 from the college and driving a couple of miles south to downtown Pensacola. There are two distinct areas of downtown, the first being the Seville Quarter, modeled after the French Quarter in New Orleans, which features historic 1800s-era Victorian buildings that have been converted into seven different distinct bars and saloons, each with its own theme. Rosie O’Grady’s, the most famous restaurant in the Quarter, is famous for its hurricane cocktails and its dueling pianos, while Little Marlene’s houses a wide collection of Navy memorabilia, and is a local hotspot for the city’s military personnel. In addition, Fast Eddie’s Pool Hall is known for a wide selection of sports items collected from Pensacola greats such as Emmitt Smith and Roy Jones Jr, while Apple Annie’s is an outdoor courtyard-style bar. Or, other bars in the Seville Quarter include Palace Oyster Bar, Phineas Phogg’s, End o’ the Alley, and Heritage Hall.
I also suggest just walking around downtown Pensacola, as the area is very scenic and historic. As the country’s first official settlement it predates St. Augustine by 6 years, but due to a hurricane, was abandoned shortly after founding. There are many historic buildings in the area, however, and if you are into history there are multiple walking tours and ghost hunts one can go on. The entire stretch of Palafox Street south of Garden Street is lined with myriad bars and restaurants as well, so you should be able to find plenty to do in the area in terms of nightlife.
Because about 90% of students live on campus, and because of the college’s strict guidelines on visits off campus, the school tries to keep students on campus as much as possible with a multitude of different dining establishments and small stores. Just one look at activities for recreation on the first floor of the arena, for example, show how it’s possible to go to school here and not have to ever venture off campus.
Many of the students on campus turn out in large numbers at basketball games; I would say about 90% of the people in attendance at a typical game are students. The portable bleachers on the east and west sides are the student section, and there is a good student turnout there. There are a few older fans sitting in the upper level seating, but for the most part a game at PCC is filled with students. Students seem engaged and are into the game, and the college does a nice job of rewarding students who attend games, as you can swipe your student ID upon entering and get some pretty cool prizes and t-shirts.
Pensacola Christian College is an easy campus to find. Conveniently located just a few blocks away from the I-110 interchange, it is also conveniently located about 2 miles west of Pensacola International Airport, so coming from out of town shouldn’t be a problem. Pensacola does have notoriously horrendous traffic, but if you can get to I-110 you shouldn’t have a problem – just take the Brent Lane/Airport Rd. exit and the campus is located right there. You should have no problem finding Arlin R. Horton Sports Center, which is located at the front of campus as soon as you enter.
Return on Investment 2
All tickets are general admission and they are priced at $5, which is about average for this level of college basketball. Though you will not see any future NBA players, and you won’t hear much music being played, the staff at PCC makes up for it with their constant entertainment options and numerous fan contests done during timeouts, something you won’t find at bigger schools; that makes this a good return on investment.
Arlin R. Sports Center has to be the only basketball arena in the country that houses a full-fledged indoor water park. On the first floor under the stairs is the entrance to the water park, and they have two slides that range from 185 feet to 210 feet. Also here is a wave pool called the Double Flowrider, a lazy river, and an indoor-and-outdoor Olympic-sized pool.
In addition to the aquatic features, there is an amazing array of sports and leisure features inside the Center that includes a rock wall, 12-lane bowling alley, ice skating rink, racquetball courts, escape room, inline skating track, 9-hole miniature golf course, indoor volleyball, and ping pong tables. So, in addition to the basketball game there should be plenty for students to do.
If coming to a game during Christmas season make sure to take a short drive around campus; the school goes above and beyond with its Christmas lights celebration. There are 500,000 lights strung around the many oak and palm trees around campus, and this impressive scene is quite festive, as on the most recent night I was there they also had Christmas carolers and Santa Claus.
Arlin R. Horton Sports Center remains an excellent place for this level of college basketball. Though there are not a lot of perks that come along with venues in this conference, the Sports Center remains an exception. From its beautiful and spacious concourse to its indoor water park and recreation facilities, the Arlin R. Horton Sports Center has it all, and remains a hidden gem sports venue in Pensacola that not a lot of people know about.