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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Gentry Center – Tennessee State Tigers

Photos Courtesy of TSU Tigers

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00

Gentry Center 3500 John Merritt Blvd Nashville, TN 37209

Year Opened: 1980

Capacity: 10,500


A Tiger by the Tail in the Music City

Nashville is primarily known as the Music City and for being the capital of Tennessee. It is also an educational hub for the state, as it is home to more than 16 colleges and universities. One of these schools is Tennessee State University (TSU), the only state-funded historically black university in the Volunteer State. Founded in 1912, TSU has an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students on its urban campus. It offers 45 bachelor’s degree programs and 24 master’s degree programs. Its most famous alumnus is Oprah Winfrey.

Tennessee State’s athletic teams are known as the Tigers, and they compete in the Ohio Valley Conference in all sports. Before joining the OVC, the Tigers played in the NAIA level of competition, where they were three-time national champions in basketball. Since moving up to Division I, TSU has made two NCAA tournament appearances.

The Tigers’ home court is known as the Gentry Center, and it is located centrally on campus. Built-in 1980, the basketball portion of the facility has a capacity of 10,500 in its game configuration. The Gentry Complex also houses the Physical Education Department, a dance studio, an indoor track, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, racquetball courts, and training/weight room facilities.

One unique aspect of the indoor track is that it is part of the basketball arena, as it is located behind the top row of seating. The track is named for Wilma Rudolph, a TSU alumnus and a world-famous Olympian in track and field.

Food & Beverage 2

There are only two concession stands in this 10,000-seat facility, which equals long lines at any time during the game. One is located on the upper level of the south stands just inside the main entrance to the facility. The other is located on the lower level of the north and stands next to the ticket office.

The offerings at either stand are rather meager, as the complete menu consists of Tiger Dogs ($3), chili dogs ($4), nachos ($3), and pickles, chips, and candy (all $1 each). The bottled drinks are Pepsi brands and are priced at $2. My advice is to stop and eat at one of the many restaurants along West End Avenue (a five-minute drive from TSU), as there are no eating establishments within walking distance of the campus.

Atmosphere 3

The Gentry Center offers the largest seating capacity of any OVC school. To fill those seats, you need a quality team on the court, frequent promotions involving the fans, and in TSU’s case, one of the best college bands around …. The Aristocrat of Bands.

The band can stir up the crowd with numerous upbeat songs, and it is almost a religious experience when they launch into “I’m So Glad,” the school’s unofficial fight song, and the entire stands break into a choreographed set of moves to the song. The cheerleaders and dance team are a valuable part of this celebration. You will leave the arena humming the tune.

Gentry Center offers an excellent seating arrangement for viewing the games, as the stands are elevated above the court. Seating on the sides is plastic molded stadium seats, while the band and student body fill the bleacher seating at the end of the court. There are no suites available, and all tickets are general admission.

The scoreboard over the playing surface does provide a good overview of the stats of the game but is lacking, in that it has no video or graphics capabilities. There are two small Daktronics screens on the corners of the court behind the upper seating level. They are very outdated with poor picture quality and are simply too small relative to the size of the facility.

One other distraction is the multi-purpose function of the facility. Other sports share the facility simultaneously, so mesh curtains are let down to screen out other activities, which in turn can block your view of the game from behind the baskets if you are on the upper concourse. Also, even though it is named in honor of hands down the greatest track athlete ever, Wilma Rudolph, the indoor track’s location at the top of the stands makes you think first before crossing, as you never know when a stray runner may sprint by.

Neighborhood 4

The main campus of TSU is located in a residential area near the Cumberland River, approximately 10 minutes northwest of downtown Nashville. While the neighborhood is very attractive, there is very little to do in the immediate area of the campus. There is one Wendy’s within walking distance of TSU. Your best bets as far as eating establishments are Harper’s on Jefferson Avenue, which is a Nashville tradition and serves a highly-regarded southern and soul food cuisine, or M.L. Rose Craft Beer and Burger located on Charlotte Avenue, which is on the other side of I-40 from the TSU campus.

The West End Avenue district is located just five minutes from TSU, and offers all levels of food service and entertainment offerings, as it fronts Vanderbilt University. Some of the local favorites include Jimmy Kelly’s, the Nashville Dog, and for breakfast, the Pancake Pantry. This area also offers you the best selection of choices for lodging, with all major brands represented at more reasonable prices than the downtown hotels, which cater to the convention and tourism trade.

Depending on your budget, the Marriott holdings (Courtyard Marriott- West End, the Springhill Suites -Vanderbilt, or the Marriott Residence Inn- West End) are within a block of each other and are within walking distance of some great restaurants.

Fans 4

Tennessee State’s membership in the Ohio Valley Conference means there are frequent rivalry games against five other OVC schools within a 100-mile radius of Nashville. These schools include Belmont University, Austin Peay University, Lipscomb University, Tennessee Tech, and the University of Tennessee-Martin. This proximity results in a very lively experience, both in the stands and on the court.

TSU students stand and cheer for the majority of the game. Aided by the non-stop music provided by the famous and award-winning Aristocrat of Bands, there is a party going on the whole game. Due to the on-campus location, most of the students simply walk over from their dorms to the games. Since the student activity fee covers game admission, expect the student section to be filled and rocking the whole game.

Access 2

The Gentry Complex is easily accessed via I-40. You would simply take the 28th Avenue exit and go three red lights, following the signage to Tennessee State University. You would then turn left onto Walter S. Davis Boulevard, and the Gentry Complex will be on your left. The real fun comes in identifying which building it is, as there is absolutely no name, athletic logo, or other signage indicating it is an athletic facility.

For a new visitor to the campus, this confusion is compounded by the placement of the ticketing facilities at the back of the building on what looks like a service road. The parking is free along the driveway leading up to the Gentry Center or in the faculty lot just to the left of the Olympic Plaza.

Return on Investment 3

Tickets are all general admission seating and cost $10. Parking for the Gentry Complex is free. The concession prices are very reasonable, but your food choices are extremely limited. Probably the most expensive aspect of going to a TSU Tigers game will be lodging, as there are no hotels located in the vicinity of the school. The closest options are in the downtown or West End districts of the Nashville area and run from $100-$350.00 a night. If you do not require overnight accommodations, a night out at a Tennessee State basketball game will not break the bank.

Extras 3

The Aristocrat of Bands certainly deserves an extra point for its showmanship, musical talent, and ability to keep the audience enthused. A second extra goes to TSU’s Olympics Plaza, which is located just outside the Gentry Center and celebrates the dozens of TSU track and field stars who have gone on to Olympic glory.

The plaza offers a listing of these athletes, who reads like a who’s who of gold, silver, and bronze medalists, in addition to many world record holders. A very contemporary statue depicting a relay runner also highlights this area. The third extra goes to Music City and all its entertainment offerings. This ranges from professional sports, big-name concerts almost nightly, and lively arts and cultural heritage.

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