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  • Writer's pictureJim Flannery

Jack Simpson Gymnasium - Calgary Dinos

Photos by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

Jack Simpson Gymnasium 2500 University Drive NW Calgary, AB T2N 1N4

Year Opened: 1987

Capacity: 3,454

University of Calgary Dinos Basketball

The University of Calgary became its own institution, separate from the University of Alberta, in 1966. Since then the U of C Dinos sports program has won 45 national championships and 145 titles in the Canada West Division.

Among all those wins, the men’s and women’s basketball teams have made their mark. The women’s Dinos took the National Championship in 1989 during a run in which they won 69 straight games and won four consecutive Canada West Titles. In addition to that run, they’ve won the division on four other occasions. The men have never won the national championship, but they’ve won Canada West six times, so they’ve come close.

The Dinos play in the Jack Simpson Gymnasium which opened in 1987 as part of a major addition to the kinesiology facilities at the U of C in anticipation of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. The U of C’s student residence buildings were used to house Olympic athletes and the world’s first indoor speed skating track was built as part of the kinesiology expansion as well.

The Jack, as it is sometimes referred to, was a major upgrade from the aging Red Gym on the other end of the complex, with a seating capacity of 3,454, better lighting, state-of-the-art flooring and numerous other features. In addition to being the home of Dinos basketball, it also plays home to the men’s and women’s volleyball teams, intramural sports, annual convocation ceremonies, and many other activities.

Food & Beverage 2

The main lobby for the Jack Simpson Gym is upstairs on the west side of the gym and is shared with the Olympic Oval. In that lobby you’ll find two concession stands, although typically only one is open for game nights. The offerings here are pretty pedestrian, with nothing more exotic than a hot dog on the menu. Chips, pop, and coffee can be purchased here, but not much else. On the upside, the price is quite reasonable: Combo Number 1 includes a hot dog, a medium fountain drink, and your choice of chips or a candy bar for $7.

The good news is that there is also a kiosk in the gym itself, on the west end of the running track at the top of the stands. The campus bar, The Den, have set up The Den West where adults can get their drink on, offering a good selection of domestic and premium beer and coolers for $6-7, depending on what you order. Again, a pretty good price!

Beyond those two spots, however, you aren’t going to find anything here, aside from a water fountain.

Atmosphere 3

The Dinos usually draw between 700-800 people for Friday night games (fairly typical for Canadian Intrauniversity and a can break 1,000 on a Saturday. For their annual “Pack the Jack” event, they can get up around 2,000 fans. This still leaves the stands more than half empty, so it can be a bit of a challenge to get the energy up in the crowd.

Typically in the CIS, both the women and the men play in back-to-back games, so you’re getting two games for the price of your game ticket. People tend to file in over the course of the women’s game, so the early game tends to be quieter than the late game.

The seats are comfortable, but leg room is a little on the tight side, so having a relatively sparse crowd gives you the opportunity to spread out a bit and ensure that this isn’t a problem.

The seats themselves are multi-coloured, with red, blue, and yellow spread around the building, which helps camouflage the actual number of people in the building, making it seems fuller than it is.

Dinos championship banners line the Jack, giving fans a sense of the long and proud history of athletics on campus. No doubt this serves to inspire Dinos players and fans alike, while intimidating visitors from other schools. And ultimately, the thing that most affects the atmosphere at a sporting event is the quality of the game. With the long and proud history of quality athletics at the U of C, you are probably going to see some excellent competition.

The facility itself is clean and tidy, with indirect lighting that isn’t too harsh on the eyes, but isn’t particularly special beyond the colourful seating and the banners.

Neighbourhood 3

The Jack Simpson Gym is located on the west end of the main U of C campus. The Kinesiology complex is connected to the MacEwan Student Centre, where the campus food court is located, providing you with a few pre-game food options but things are closed by the time the games have wrapped up. Similarly, The Den and Black Lounge, the campus bar which is also located in MSC, closes at 10 pm on Fridays and isn’t open at all on Saturdays, so don’t expect to get your party on while at the University for a game.

Realistically, there isn’t anything that most people would consider walkable from the Jack. In any direction, you’re probably at least a 15-minute walk from the edge of campus, after which you still have to walk for another 10-plus minutes to get to anything worth getting to. So you’re more likely at least a short drive away from other points of interest. There are a few good spots to check out if you make that trip, however.

To the northeast of campus is Brentwood Village Mall. Within that complex you’ll find a Harvey’s, a Starbucks, and a couple really nice Irish-style pubs. The Killkenny provides quality pub food (the chicken wings are enormous and tasty) and a wide selection of adult beverages (the beer menu alone is six pages long). Likewise, Jamiesons has a vast drink menu and a solid food menu featuring typical pub fare as well as some more exotic choices.

To the southeast of campus you’ll find Motel Village, which features some excellent New Orleans-style cuisine at Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse, a Boston Pizza, a Denny’s, and several fast-food places. Just to the north of Motel Village proper, you’ll also find Nick’s Steakhouse and Pizza, which has won several Consumer’s Choice Awards over the years.

If you head southwest of campus, you’ll arrive at the Stadium Shopping Mall which features Moose McGuire’s Bar, The Keg for a little more upscale steak dining, and the Redwater Rustic Grille, which also offers a more upscale dining experience.

Fans 3

The fans at Dinos games are generally a relaxed group who applaud at the right times and occasionally boo a call they aren’t happy with, but are generally pretty quiet. With only a few hundred people scattered around a venue that can hold several thousand, this can make for a pretty subdued feel in the stands. Not unpleasant, but low-key. If you’re looking for a place where the energy is high and the crowd is cheering from start-to-finish, this isn’t the place.

Nevertheless, eyes are generally on the floor, so the crowd is engaged and enjoying the games, so the overall experience is positive.

Access 4

The University of Calgary is located in the city’s north west quadrant, on the west side of Crowchild Trail, a major north-south artery in town, and 16th Ave., which is one of the major east-west arteries and also part of the Trans-Canada Highway. As a result, getting to campus is pretty easy from all directions. Calgary Transit also services campus with busses as well as a Light Rail Transit (LRT) stop.

Depending on where you park on campus, the price can vary a little, but you’re most economical choices are Lots 10 and 11, on the north east corner of the main campus, just beyond the Olympic Oval. In both cases it’s $7 for the day, which is a bargain compared to the parking prices in other parts of the city.

Once on campus you can walk just about anywhere while remaining indoors, which is a pretty big deal if it’s the middle of winter and the temperatures have dropped to below -20°C (which is not uncommon). Depending on where you started, it could be a bit of a hike to get to the Jack, but probably not more than 10 minutes.

As noted above, the entrance to the gym is shared with the Olympic Oval. The ticket window is just inside the shared entrance, then you’ll head up the stairs to the upper concourse where the concession stand is located and through the doors into the gym itself. You’ll find yourself at the top of the west stands on the running track that connects to the campus fitness centre. There is tons of room here for even a large crowd, so moving around is not a problem. Likewise, it should be no problem at all to find a decent place to sit without feeling crowded in by other patrons.

Do be aware: The beautiful LED screen which is installed above the north end of the court, is not easily viewed if you sit in sections K, J, D or E, all on the north end of the stands. Also, because the basketball nets are suspended from the ceiling of the gym and hang from a lattice of white steel pipes, views of the screen and scoreboard are partially obscured from many other locations south of mid-court. This is a shame because it detracts from how sharp these recent upgrades to the facility actually are.

Return On Investment 5

Adult ticket prices are $15 each, seniors are $10, and kids aged 7-17 get in for $8. A family package is also available for two adults and up to four kids for $40. These are all pretty decent prices to come see the best basketball in the city, especially since you get two games for the price of one.

But the real deal here is for U of C students: because of an annual student levy, all U of C students get in to any Dinos regular season games for free. Just show your ID card and in you go. Short of paying people to show up, there isn’t a better deal than that!

Extras 2

The Calgary Stampede Band of Outriders are a fixture at Dinos games, providing live entertainment during stoppages in the on-floor action.

There are recycling bins around the facility to encourage fans to reduce, reuse and recycle. Always a nice touch.

Spend some time walking around the north and south ends of the track and have a long look at all the national championship banners. It’s an impressive collection!

If you need to kill some time before the game or during intermission, you can wander into the Olympic Oval and have a look at what’s going on out on the speed skating track or the two full-size hockey rinks found in the oval ring. Also, the concourse area between the Oval and the Jack is home to the Speed Skating Canada Hall of Fame display as well as some interesting art.

Speaking of art, if you have time to wander around campus, there are a number of interesting sculptures and displays. For instance, just outside the Oval/Jack entrance to the north there is a large sculpture that was part of the 1988 Olympics development, called The Spire, although it is more affectionately known by U of C students as “the paperclip.” Only a few metres from the Spire is one of the three Olympic Torch locations.

As you walk through the Kinesiology hallways, you’ll come across the Dinos Hall of Fame display, honouring some of the great athletes and teams to come through the U of C.

Final Thoughts

Dinos basketball is an entertaining product at a reasonable price. They have a history of success which ensures you’ll see some competitive action. The Jack is a nice place to take in some CIS sports and worth your time to visit.

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