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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Robert J. Surtees Student Athletic Centre - Nipissing Lakers

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey.

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00

Robert J. Surtees Student Athletic Centre 100 College Drive North Bay, ON P1B 8L7 Canada

Year Opened: 2001

Capacity: 1,200

Starting From Scratch

It was with humble beginnings that Nipissing University was born. Relatively young, Nipissing received its university charter in 1992. Previously known as the North Bay Teachers College for a number of decades, Nipissing University is a very small university even by CIS standards. With an enrollment of approximately 6,300 students, many of them Education students who are only on campus for certain weeks during the semester, Nipissing is in the bottom third of the CIS for enrollment, the 4th smallest school in the OUA conference and the 2nd smallest basketball school in the OUA.

For many years, athletic teams at Nipissing University competed in the OCAA, which is primarily the athletic home of Ontario Community Colleges. When Nipissing decided to field an ice hockey team in 2009, the plan to move athletic teams to the CIS was sprung. The 2014-2015 season marks the first ever season for the Nipissing Lakers basketball team. Previously, the Lakers competed in the North Bay city league.

With the expansion of athletics in North Bay came the expansion of the already fairly new Robert J. Surtees Student Athletics Centre. The RJS was named after founding faculty member, history professor and former athletic supporter Robert J. Surtees. Having numerous athletic achievements in North Bay, Surtees was also the coach of the Lakers for 20 seasons. The expansion tripled the size of the original facility and made it one of the state of the art facilities for CIS basketball and Nipissing students.

Although it is difficult to start a program with marketing, recruiting and academic issues all combined with very little success initially on the court, the Lakers are making their mark and their experience is comparable to any other CIS basketball experience.

Food & Beverage 2

The concessions at the RJS Athletic Centre are very limited. As is common in facilities of this size, the menu is very small. In this case, the entire menu consists of soda (mainly Coca-Cola products), coffee, tea, water, popcorn, hot dogs and pizza. Two really unusual options would include Michelina’s individual pasta dishes and Cup-A-Soup. Although the menu may not excite you the prices can’t really be beaten. Everything on the menu goes for either $1 or $2. Another fairly unique feature for this level of competition is the ability to purchase alcohol inside the gymnasium itself. Bud Light and Smirnoff is available for $4.

Atmosphere 3

The facilities in the CIS for basketball are not even close to being huge. The capacities are small and the experience is intimate. The Lakers provide one of the nicer atmospheres in the league.

Outside of the facility, patrons will see a smart looking, red brick facility that will not blow your mind with beauty or unique features, but it wouldn’t be considered an eyesore either. Entering from the cold, patrons are warmly welcomed by the smart and simple décor of the concourse where students sit at a temporary table to sell or take tickets. At the far end of the facility is the access to the fitness centre and locker rooms for students. There is also an extremely small store at the far end offering a limited variety of Lakers swag. The concourse features some Lakers advertising, specifically their PRIDE athletics mantra (passion, respect, integrity, dedication, excellence). There are also a variety of trophy cases which house mementos from various Laker athletic achievements, including one of the Olympic torches that were carried across Canada for the Vancouver Olympics.

Upon entering the gymnasium, you are welcomed with a very bright and bold atmosphere. The newness and cleanliness of the facility is not lost on the patron, as is the simplicity of the presentation. The RJS Athletic Centre features one set of bleachers on the north side of the gym with contoured plastic benches. The south side of the building houses the fitness centre, and students in the fitness centre can look upon the gymnasium through the frosted window with the school name and colours. The north side of the gymnasium, behind the bleachers, features athletic banners celebrating various athletic achievements for Nipissing, mostly volleyball from their days in the OCAA. There are also banners commemorating All-Canadians who have played for the Lakers. On the east and west sides of the gymnasium are the scoreboards. Both are simple, but the board on the east side also features player numbers for those on the floor as well as their points and fouls. A unique feature for this league is the video board which is on the north wall. The Athletic Centre is a teaching facility. Unfortunately they have a plethora of lines on the basketball court for various configurations and lack traditional basketball markings at centre court and along the sidelines and under the baskets.

The game day presentation is fairly simple, as is expected. Basketball games are student-run and the student presence is strong throughout. One of the best features of the experience is definitely the St.Joseph-Scollard Hall Band. This high school band plays throughout the breaks and even some of the defensive spots during the game. It is rare to find pep bands in the CIS, let alone a band at a basketball game.

Neighborhood 3

North Bay is a small Northern Ontario city, often referred to as the “Gateway to the North,” with a population of over 53,000. It is a long and skinny city which stretches along the coast of Lake Nipissing. Nipissing University is located at the northern tip of the city on the top of a significant hill. Other than The Wall, the on campus student pub which has significantly limited hours, there is not much of anything in the surrounding Nipissing neighbourhood. If you are looking for places to eat, you will definitely have to stray from campus. There are a number of chain restaurants not too far on Algonquin Avenue. Some more unique places you may want to try could include the Fox and Fiddle, Burger World or Colonel Hoagie’s Diner. I would recommend trying Wacky Wings on Seymour or even heading out to nearby Sundridge to Danny’s Justa Pasta.

There are plenty of other entertainment near or in North Bay, especially if you are an outdoor enthusiast. In the summer, North Bay is near prime fishing and cottage areas. Some cottage accommodations can even be found right on Lake Nipissing, close to downtown. In the winter, snowmobiling can be found nearby and Lake Nipissing is a top spot for ice fishing. Laurentian Ski Hill is pretty small, but within the city. Lakers basketball could be a great ending to the day after participating in some outdoor activities during the day. Other sporting options include Nipissing Lakers hockey and North Bay Battalion hockey, which can both be found at the North Bay Memorial Gardens.

Fans 2

It is very difficult to measure the fan support that the Lakers have received in their inaugural season. Many CIS teams do not publish their attendance figures in their box scores and the Lakers are included in this group. With a small capacity at Surtees, having a cavernous facility with a small attendance is not a big problem. The Lakers are probably drawing hundreds of fans to their games as compared to the thousands or tens of thousands the NCAA schools are drawing, however this is not out of place for the league. The fans that were in attendance for the game that was reviewed were supportive of the Lakers and enthusiastic and loud at times. Even though the Lakers, at the time of publication, were looking for their first ever win, Laker fans were still there for their team. Hopefully, Nipissing can continue to attempt to capture the interest and intrigue of their community and fan support for the Lakers can steadily increase over time.

Access 4

Getting to Nipissing is not difficult. It is located at the northern tip of the city, on top of a large hill. The Trans Canada Highway runs right through the centre of the city and during non-peak hours, getting through North Bay isn’t too bad. Nipissing is located very close to Highway 17/Trans Canada Highway. The campus of Nipissing is quite picturesque in a rural, Northern Ontario way, but very small. Finding the Athletic Centre on campus is no problem at all and there is sufficient parking in the adjacent parking lot. Inside, the concourse is large, and travelling through it is not difficult. The washroom facilities are also adequate for the attendance.

Return on Investment 4

Lakers basketball has a very low investment involved. Tickets are $10 for adults with 50% discounts for non-Nipissing students, seniors and alumni. Children are also free. Concession prices are very cheap, and parking on campus is free for game time. The return for that low investment is fairly decent. Nipissing provides an intimate sporting experience, in a clean and bright facility. This mark would be a full five stars if the Lakers were able to provide a better product on the floor. Once the program gains a solid footing and is able to better compete after its initial years, the return will even more outweigh the investment.

Extras 3

An extra mark for the St.Joseph-Scollard Hall Band which offers something fresh to the Laker basketball experience that you don’t find in many CIS basketball experiences

An extra mark for the Olympic torch in the trophy case which was run through North Bay on its way to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

An extra mark for Nipissing making the tough transition from the OCAA to CIS and bringing basketball in North Bay to a whole new level.

Final Thoughts

CIS basketball does not offer the sheer size of a Kentucky or North Carolina experience. Nor does it offer the pageantry and history that Duke offers. What Nipissing and CIS basketball offers is an intimate experience that allows the patron to get up close and personal to the game without having to worry about a crazy student section or having to offer up two mortgage payments for tickets. The Lakers have made their mark in their inaugural season and will hopefully continue to make strides into the future.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9.

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