- Andy Mantsch
Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center – South Carolina State Bulldogs
Photo Courtesy of South Carolina State University
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center 200 Buckley St. Orangeburg, SC 29117
South Carolina State Bulldogs website
Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center website
Year Opened: 1968
On February 8, 1968, the South Carolina Highway Patrol shot and killed three local men who were among those protesting the segregation of a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina. What does this have to do with the South Carolina State Bulldogs college basketball team? Those killed were students Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond, and Delano Middleton, and they were shot on South Carolina State’s campus. Those three names are memorialized in the name and as plaques in the lobby of the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center, home of the South Carolina State Bulldogs basketball team. While most college basketball venues around the country are named for corporate sponsors, alumni or boosters…this stands out as one of the most notable and noble naming conventions you’re likely to find.
The SHM Memorial Center opened in 1968, the same year as the shootings. While age hasn’t necessarily worn well on the building, that can both be a negative and positive, in terms of the overall experience. For the South Carolina State Bulldogs of Orangeburg, South Carolina, the SHM Memorial Center is very much home.
Food & Beverage 1
There’s not a whole lot here to choose from, in terms of both food options and concession stands themselves. Don’t expect one of college basketball’s most exciting concessions experiences here.
There’s only one open concession stand with food available in SHM, and that means the lines get extraordinarily long. You’ll want to be particularly strategic about when you choose to get food because you’re likely to find yourself missing some of the action in the cramped concourse. Once you reach your destination, food items available are the bare minimum. Hot dogs, nachos and popcorn make up a modest menu. The upside? These menu items are all under $5. There’s also Rita’s Italian Ice stand located in the concourse if you choose to just bypass meal options. But again, this line can get lengthy. On the occasion I attended, there was a barbecue food truck outside the arena. The problem with this was specifically that it’s OUTSIDE the venue.
While there are drinks available at the concession stands, there are also soda machines in the concourse. So for half the price, you can avoid the lines. That fact alone sums up the food experience here.
An honest recommendation that I rarely choose to make is eating before or after the game. It’s just easier at this venue, and the food options will likely be better.
The environment inside SHM Memorial Center is an interesting blend that truly makes for something unique, despite all of its obvious flaws due to the wear and tear that comes with age.
When you pull up to the venue, you’re not going to be impressed. Let’s put that out there right away. From the outside, the building and even the parking lot look worn and old. The entrance seems ancient, with ticket windows where it’s hard to hear through thick glass. The concourse is merely a narrow hallway painted completely white. And even the gym itself is old. An ancient scoreboard hangs in the middle of the court dedicated by the “Class of 1962.” The bleachers and wooden chairback seating seem straight out of the 1960s (they actually are). Everything here seems older, and at first glance that can be a negative. But it all seems to come together to deliver the feeling of nostalgia and pride that not many venues offer. No one would argue that this is the most aesthetically pleasing venue, but it’s hard to argue against the character within those walls.
And once you throw in the uniqueness of the experience, you really start adding value. The pep band is as enthusiastic and engaged as any pep band you’ll ever see. Personalized chants, hand movements, and music choices abound. This small section of students in the bleachers drives the unique energy around the arena. The cheerleader and dance teams offer up some of the most creative routines you’re likely to see, all without musical accompaniment. The announcer over the PA system yells a litany of fun slogans for turnovers, foul shots, and 3-pointers that add even more fun. Everything seems choreographed, yet natural in a way that blends together to make a truly fun experience. Character abounds here.
The venue is small enough that you really can’t go wrong with seating anywhere in the building. You can pay a bit more for bleacher seating courtside, but from here, the pep band will be on your right and you’ll be facing a staging area across the court. General admission affords you the upper-tier seating (not an upper deck by any means). I would absolutely choose this option and get a bird’s-eye view of the action, the pep band and all of the proceedings.
Orangeburg is a small town located off of I-26 about 40 minutes southeast of Columbia. There’s really not a lot to do here, but if you look around a bit you can find some options.
The vast majority of local restaurants in the area consist of southern chains like Bojangles’ or Cook Out. But there are some unique options to be found relatively close to campus. Mama’s Kountry Kooking is just south of campus and comes complete with checkerboard tablecloths while serving distinctly southern food options. There are a variety of barbecue options nearby, but Duke’s Bar-B-Que is the most local for your pork needs. Just be mindful, because Duke’s is only open Thursday through Saturday. None of these options will blow you away in terms of upscale dining, but they are distinctly small-town, southern options which come with a charm and flavor all their own.
While Orangeburg definitely isn’t known as a prime vacation destination, it does come with at least one excellent attraction. The Edisto Memorial Gardens are widely known as an excellent botanical garden in the state. So if taking a stroll among the flowers suits you, this is the place to go. If you want to get particularly weirder with your visit, the UFO Welcome Center is located just a short drive down 178. That’s right — it’s a welcome center for aliens. Constructed by one man, this roadside attraction comes complete with a welcome sign painted on a fence and a self-constructed UFO. While it won’t blow you away for ambiance and budget, it’s an interesting stop, to say the least.
While there are several budget hotels immediately near campus, the largest cluster of hotels that provide easier access in and out of town, as well as to restaurants and gas stations, are located along I-26. Here you’ll find a Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and a variety of other recognizable brands.
Tied closely to the overall atmosphere, fan support at a Bulldogs game tends to be on the unique and highly interesting side.
Attendance for these games isn’t always great, as noted by 2016’s average attendance of just 439. Even for a small gym, that average is considerably low.
But the value here comes in the engagement of the fans throughout. The student section (nicknamed the Junkyard) follows the energetic leader of the pep band and cheerleaders creating quite a party atmosphere throughout the game. The unique chants, songs, and even choreographed dances seem to be contagious. There’s also a significant contingent of locals who seem to know each other at each of these games. There is a strong feeling of community at S.C. State, and this shows inside SHM Memorial Center. Even if the attendance numbers don’t blow you away, there’s still plenty of character to be found.
Orangeburg isn’t the most ideal tourist destination, and therefore is somewhat off the beaten path, from an access point of view.
The nearest airport (and big city) is Columbia, which can be a drive of 40 minutes to an hour. There’s not any real public transit available, although the university lies not far from I-26. This means that from Charleston or Columbia, the drive is at least pretty straightforward.
Once you get on campus, things get considerably easier. The parking lot around the stadium is free and offers plenty of spots. You won’t have to walk across campus at all here. Traffic moves pretty easily in and out, as most of the attendees are students and arrive on foot.
The ticket situation can be a bit interesting. The windows are in a very small lobby area that can get congested and loud. I found it very hard to hear what the cashier was saying behind thick glass. But the lines aren’t long and the process should move fairly quickly.
Once inside the venue, you’ll find that the concourses are surprisingly narrow, which is compounded by the few concession options that tend to completely clog them. However, it’s easy enough to move around through the traffic to any seating options in the arena. Once you reach the main gym area, you should have no real problems navigating to any seats you may choose. Restrooms are clean enough and are sufficient for the number of attendees at the game. Should Bulldog crowds ever grow in size, I imagine that all of the concourse congestion issues will get considerably more challenging. But for the time being, it’s easy enough to navigate.
Return on Investment 4
If it’s a unique experience you’re after, you’re definitely going to get a return on your investment. If it’s the biggest and most beautiful venue you’re after, you’re not. It’s truly that simple.
Parking is free and tickets will run you $10 for general admission. Should you choose to eat at the venue, expect to spend less than $5-$7. From a value perspective, that’s pretty solid. There’s currently a no good way to buy tickets besides walking up to the door, so plan to bring cash to make your transaction go smoothly.
A unique experience full of character is what a South Carolina State game is all about. First off, I’d be completely remiss to not mention that history of the SHM Memorial Center name and the plaques hanging in the lobby. No stadium I can think of boasts such a proud name with such strong ties to the community. In the venue itself, everything feels like an extra. The pep band and cheerleaders create one of the most local and homegrown experiences in college basketball. They may not do it bigger, but they are doing it with an incredible amount of character. The fixtures around the stadium can be seen as old and outdated, but somehow it all comes together in a way that feels right. This historical feel is definitely unique in its own right. And add to that history the banners that hang throughout the stadium recognizing the program’s historical accomplishments (even if those accomplishments are also dated), and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time on this stadium visit.
A South Carolina State Bulldogs game won’t blow you away with a shiny new venue, outstanding food selection or massive crowds full of screaming fans. But it will be an experience unlike any other you’re likely to find. It’s an experience that any basketball fan should try at least one time in their travels before returning to the comfortable homes of some of the larger programs.