Athletics-Recreation Center – Valparaiso Beacons
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Athletics-Recreation Center 1009 Union St. Valparaiso, IN 46383
Year Opened: 1984
Valpo Basketball is a Community Effort
Note: The university changed its athletic team name from Crusaders to Beacons during the 2021-2022 season.
The Valparaiso University Crusaders play basketball at the Athletic-Recreation Center, also known as the ARC, a 5,000-seat capacity that opened in 1984 as part of a $7.25 million expansion on the north side of its former home Hilltop Gym.
Visitors can still visit Valpo’s former home of college hoops as it now serves as a practice facility for the basketball program following 2005 renovations that included new flooring, lighting, windows, and various school banners honoring its athletic programs. The gym was built in 1939 and fans can get a peek inside when purchasing concessions on the upper concourse.
The Crusaders first game was on November 27th, 1984 against Western Michigan University; four years later the “Lutheran Miracle” occurred when they defeated the 19th-ranked Notre Dame Irish in front of a frenzied packed house. The frenzy continued with the arrival of head coach Homer Drew and his son, Bryce Drew. In 1998 a last-second shot by Bryce defeated Ole Miss and propelled Valpo to the Sweet Sixteen.
From 1994-2004 the university won or shared 8 conference championships and made 6 NCAA Tournament appearances. In total, the men’s program has won a total of 15 regular and tournament conference championships and has made nine NCAA tournament appearances. In 2017 Valpo joined the Missouri Valley Conference.
Food & Beverage 3
There are two concession stands in the building with one being on the main court behind the net and the other one on the upper level near the Hilltop Gym door entrance. The options are limited but are fairly inexpensive. Hot dogs are $2, bratwursts are $3, pizza sells for $2.25, pretzels (with cheese) cost $4, and nachos/loaded nachos are $3/$4.50.
However, many great dining options in town are definitely worth checking out before or after the game perhaps making eating during the game something to look over or if you just need something to snack on during the game.
There is a community feel when attending a Valpo game at the ARC. The building itself is not anything remarkable but it is designed to put fans up close and personal with the players on the court. The fans underneath the nets are also pressed up against the players as they drive towards the basket and to the cheerleaders and band.
Fans walk into the venue through the main lobby that houses a collection of trophies and history photos on the brick walls. Staircases take fans to upper-level seating and a narrow hall leads fans to the lower-level section that puts them near the court along with the concession stand and merchandise table.
The colors of brown and gold are evident everywhere in the building from the cheerleaders’ uniforms, signage on the wall and court, banners hanging from the rafters, and other parts of the building. Once the game begins the fans do not sit down until the first points are made by the home team.
During breaks the cheerleaders entertain the crowds, local supporters toss out t-shirts into the stands, little kids wipe the court when needed, and the team mascot hangs out with the student section. There is a small-town atmosphere at the ARC that is frenzied among its supporters that ends with many lining up as the club walks off the court in hopes of getting a handshake or congratulating them on the win.
Valparaiso’s downtown square offers a collection of amazing eateries, shops, and great places to drink craft beer. The streets on nice days are packed with people, enjoying dinner and drinks on outside patios. There is a selection of retail shops that sell olive oil, wines, fresh cheese, meats, and homemade sauces. The colorful and pleasant main street is worth walking to check out the many selections of restaurants.
Don Quijote is legendary for its Spanish cuisine. Pikk’s Tavern specializes in steaks, ribs, and other traditional food offerings. Figure Eight Brewing has set up shop a block off the main street and features an impressive selection of beers and pub fare inside their swank little building.
Vaps offers the town’s most interesting street food, with ground lamb and beef selections served in a flatbread with feta cheese, cabbage, cucumbers, and yogurt at an inexpensive price (they are also huge). Stack’s Bar and Grill, Industrial Revolution Eatery & Grille, and Serrano’s Mexican Grill are other great options when in town.
About a mile west of downtown is Four Fathers Brewing; the small little brewery is off the state road and offers a fantastic pale ale and is popular among the locals. Santini’s and Tomato Bar Pizza are two fantastic family options to share a pie with the family.
The Crusaders enjoy a great fan base at home games that fill up the facility to about 75% and cheer them on with as much passion as some of the big boys. It is a community effort with students, alumni, locals, and little ones doing their part to provide a home-court advantage at all home games. Fans are decked in team gear of brown and gold and no one sits down in their seat until the first home basket is made.
The ARC is not difficult to maneuver once you are inside the seating bowl. There is a lower level concourse that houses the concession and merchandise stand while the upper concourse has a walkway that wraps around the entire two main seating areas. There is a hidden concourse behind the upper seating area that features bathrooms and another concession stand. There is limited parking at the arena and fans may have to park on residential streets and walk to the building.
Return on Investment 4
A Valpo game can be very entertaining with an enthusiastic crowd and basketball from a mid-major conference. Ticket prices begin at $12 and are in the reserved mezzanine and lower-level reserved bleachers. Chairback tickets and courtside seating cost $27 and $37 respectively. The best bet is to pay $12 and you will be guaranteed to have a great view of the court. The parking is free, concessions are inexpensive, the town is lovely, and the lively crowd makes it worth your while to visit a game.
The ARC earns a point for allowing fans to visit the team’s old Hilltop Gym which is located behind the upper level of the seating bowl. There are not too many gymnasiums or other sporting venues where the old facility is still connected to the current facility. Unfortunately, fans are unable to walk inside the gym to take a look around.
The ARC earns the second point for the various banners that hang from the rafters. The Crusaders program has a healthy history during its days in the NAIA and during the 1990s when they were becoming an NCAA tournament staple.
The ARC earns a final point for the sense of community throughout the game. This feels like a high school menu in some regards with little kids wiping down the court and townspeople tossing out shirts for the fans.
Valpo games are a community effort that is spearheaded by the supporters in the stands and the team plays on the court. The fan support at each game provides the fuel needed for the Crusaders to play at their best. The ARC is not the fanciest of venues in the world of college basketball but it is one of the more welcoming spots for the sport in the nation.